A weird gothic fairytale, made gruesome by Hostel’s Eli Roth. Not something I’d usually tune in for but Netflix’s impressive House of Cards run had me thinking twice. House of Cards was adult, cinematic, not bound by the usual restrictions of a TV show – namely adverts, running time or amount of swearing – so what would be their take on the horror genre?
From the synopsis it seemed like it might be Twin Peaks meets Buffy; a young girl brutally murdered in a town with plenty of supernatural secrets, and hot teens having the run of the place. While the first episode sets up the strange community full of odd characters, the ambiguity is often ruined by clunky scenes that start jumping around Hemlock Grove’s history before we’ve had a chance to settle in.
The episode’s main aim is to kick the story off with the death of a young girl and all evidence points to a werewolf as the culprit. But is the werewolf either newly arrived gypsy Peter or son of the town’s rich Godfrey corporation Roman? We’re not too concerned right now as other relationship’s are introduced, albeit very briefly.
The story starts jumping back to the start of the summer, and then to 13 years previously when Roman’s father commits suicide. This is preceded by a bit of horrible exposition with Dougray Scott’s Norman arguing with Roman’s father about Olivia, the series’ controlling, hypnotic matriarch played by Famke Janssen. The scene hammers home what I’m guessing will be the central thread of the series – just who, or what, is Olivia – which is done much more subtly in her delicate behaviour with the precocious Roman.
While we get to grips with the various oddballs the ‘story’ stutters into first gear with the podgy sheriff teaming up with Norman to find out who left a cheerleader with her guts hanging out. This involves seeking out creepy scientist Dr Price – obviously up to something dodgy – who suggest a four-legged perpetrator while Norman pouts about ‘wasting their time’ amongst other desperate cliches.
The plotting is slapdash, a rush to get various story strands running before the characters have a had a chance to walk. Scott and Janssen’s indifferent performances do little to get the audience interested in Hemlock Grove’s dark past but luckily there’s enough intrigue in the younger cast members to warrant further interest.
If this was a weekly TV show then I’d have probably forgotten all about it by the time the next instalment came along, but the beauty of the Netflix model is it promotes fast consumption. No waiting around to lose the story, even casual interest leads to further watching. Hemlock Grove’s first episode doesn’t smash you round the head but it doesn’t need to, just get you onto the next one which is 20 seconds away. Let’s hope they get a bit more polished.