The Night is Dark and Full of Terrors: Netflix’s Hemlock Grove


by Joy Bossardet

Echoing the luster of True Blood’s groundbreaking first season, complete with a Skarsgard (one of Alexander’s many brothers, Bill), Netflix introduces Hemlock Grove.  While there are many similarities to horror-drama crossovers such as Twin Peaks and American Horror Story, I found this storyline genuinely entertaining, captivating, and not only a little disturbing, unlike AHS which failed to hold my interest beyond the first episode.  Part of Netflix’s new exclusive lineup, including House of Cards and the resurrected Arrested Development, this series is gaining notoriety thanks to director/producer Eli Roth (Hostel) and his insistence on pushing the bloody envelope of carnage and supernatural terror.

Based on the novel by Brian McGreevey, the 13-part series is set in the backwoods of steel-town Pennsylvania, ranging from a forgotten trailer park to a new-wealth American castle.  Although most appear as normal humans, there is no lack of monsters – gypsies, werewolves, upir (Russian vampires), mutants, zombies, angels – at this point, I’m just waiting for aliens to show up and round out the collection of beasties.  Throw in a few garden variety extramarital affairs, casual drug use and teen pregnancy and there’s your show. 


The intrigue revolves around the wealthy Godfrey and nomadic Rumancek families, strange bedfellows harboring their own, and the others, dark secrets.  Famke Janssen (X-Men) is Olivia Godfrey, the cold matriarch of our upir family complete with a Cruella de Vil styled wardrobe and the occasional (when she feels being particularly bitchy) British accent.  She keeps her true nature concealed from most of her peers and the meager peasants of Hemlock Grove while displaying a Jocasta-esque interest in golden child, Roman (Bill Skarsgard).

Roman channels Ryan Phillipe in Cruel Intentions, complete with vintage Jaguar, depicting a spoiled sociopath harboring an incestuous love/lust for cousin Letha (Penelope Mitchell, cousin of Silent Hill’s Radha Mitchell).  Letha Godfrey is the archetypal blonde good amidst the brunette evil of her family, whose father Norman (Dougray Scott, MI-2) fills the stoic voice of reason, with a proper American intonation, as town psychiatrist and brother of Olivia’s late husband and corporate magnate JR.  Rounding out this gothic circus is the aptly named Shelley Godfrey (Nicole Boivin), a mute and towering monster of a 14-year-old with a glowing personality – literally.

Battlestar Galactica fans will be pleased with the recurring appearances of Kandyse McClure as Dr. Clementine Chasseur, a werewolf hunter masquerading as a fish and wildlife officer, and Aaron Douglas as Sheriff Tom Sworn, a modest and practical single father whose world disintegrates amid the ongoing search for the vargulf, an insane werewolf.  The truly impressive performances come from newcomers Landon Liboiron as gypsy werewolf Peter Rumancek and Freya Tingley as aspiring teen novelist Christina Wendall.  Veteran Lili Taylor (The Haunting, Ransom) serves to bind the remaining Rumanceks together as Peter’s concerned mother Lynda, perhaps the most “normal” of Hemlock Grove’s residents.


The disappointment of the series is in the overplayed and underdeveloped “evil scientist” in Dr. Pryce (Joel de la Fuente), who’s smiling through gritted teeth is as transparent as the premise of the malevolent Godfrey Corporation operating out of the proverbial “white tower.” Another mildly frustrating aspect of this series is its adherence to that old horror cliché – if you’re a young girl and you enjoy sex, have had sex, are thinking about having sex or think you might one day enjoy sex, you’ve signed your own death warrant.  Sex and nudity abounds, most being naughty or forbidden, and the consequences ring ever-so-true in the immortal words of Marvin the Android: “this will all end in tears.”

What the series lacks in originality it more than makes up for in its prolonged and gruesome werewolf transformation scenes.  I won’t spoil it for you, but if you’re not cringing, check and make sure you’re watching the same show.  It’s got all the Achilles-severing goodness of Hostel, but manages to retain a darkly humorous edge and some small tendrils of humanity. While the pace initially drags, especially during painfully awkward teenage love tension and seemingly irrelevant gypsy campfire tales, the momentum increases by the final episodes to the point I’m frantically rewinding and re-watching to make sure I’ve caught everything.


Overall, I’d give Hemlock Grove a solid B, with moderate promise to continue, but standing well enough on its own merit.  Without spoiling it for Netflix users (or anyone, really, since its slated to be available on DVD this summer) I see this going in much of the same vein as AHS if continued in a second season, due to a largely depleted female cast.  Then again, with werewolves and vampires, the traditional constraints of life and death are usually abandoned, so who knows what may come in an as-yet unannounced second installment.

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  1. Wow! I read your review and I have to ask, “Did we watch the same show?” I did not finish watching Hemlock Grove (quit halfway through the seventh episode) but I did write this brief review on my facebook page.

    A Brief review of Netflix’s original series Hemlock Grove

    As far back as I can remember, I have always been a horror genre fanboy. I heard Hemlock Grove was about vampires and werewolves so I decided to give it a whirl.

    The book it was based on: Never read it. Has anyone out there in internetland read it and can give me an idea about it?

    The script: One dimensional characters giving lines in odd and contrived places in odd and contrived ways. Character depth is reduced to everyone acting like pouty/angry/sullen high schoolers-even though only half the cast is supposed to be in high school.

    The actors: Could be partly the script’s fault, but (with the exception of Lili Taylor (am biased about her, )) most of the delivery by most of the actors is quite wooden and flat and then forced and shouty when the director has told them, “say it more angrierer!”

    The plot/horror genre stuff/story: After six and a half hours of watching (sigh, will not get that time back): I still don’t know the what/why/how of the two vampires in the series-but I do know that they are both addicts and that the son can hypnotize people. I saw the gypsy werewolf change shape once, but that is all the werewolfy stuff I know about him (a few other trivial tidbits were included). I know that the frankenstein girl make the lights flicker when she gets upset and that she was probably from a dead baby. I know that the asian guy who plays the mad scientist Johann (asian guy named Johann without explaining the backstory on that? right….) and talks too damn much into his voice recorder (lazy scriptwriter). I know that I am confused about the inclusion of the straight/normal/not supernatural nerd girl who wants to a writer, as she seems to be a device to carry forward the plot, except that the writers aren’t really using her for that and are giving her a ton of unnecessary show time. And I know the main story is about two girls that have been killed by a crazy werewolf. In a nutshell, for six and a half hours, I don’t know much: this is some piss-poor storytelling.

    Avoid this show, even if (and perhaps especially if) you are a big horror genre fanboy like me.

  2. Nice review, Ms. Bossardet. Very nice, actually. There were some things I didn’t care for like the abandonment of the word “vampire” in favor of the Russian equivalent, “upir”. That reeks of abandoning the word to the likes of Stephanie Meyer’s ilk, and I won’t stand for it. But I freakin’ love the cast, though. Characters make or break a show, and in this case they made it for me.

  3. I wouldn’t necessarily call Landon Liboiron a newcomer! Hailing from Canada, he was on Degrassi: TNG from 2009-2011, and was the son (Josh) on the short lived Terra-Nova.

    That being said, I can see why there’s all the hate for Hemlock Grove – but I LOVED it, and appreciate this review. It’s the first I’ve come across where the viewer seemed to realize the insane premise of the show and accept why it worked as well as it did, all things considered.

    To me, one of the biggest things I’m seeing in a lot of reviews is “I hated it, so I didn’t finish watching it,” or “I didn’t understand anything, so I didn’t finishing watching it.” To those people, I say, well, if you didn’t like it, that’s your prerogative, but you can’t judge something without having seen all of it. To the other lot, I certainly didn’t understand a LOT of the show until over half way through; that was a plot device, to keep you intrigued by not telling you everything in the first two episodes. What the hell would the point of that be? It would have been like if Lost told you what was in the hatch and what the island actually was in the first few episodes – you wouldn’t have kept watching for the mystery.

    Which, at it’s core, Hemlock Grove is – simply a mystery; who murdered these girls, and why?

  4. I didn’t care for the show. I mentioned yesterday in an article that I was attracted to it because of Eli Roth and its supposed similarity to Twin Peaks, one of my fav shows ever.

    The first ep was ok, but once they started talking about werewolves and vampires and whatnot I got worried. As I went on it got worse and worse. I only finished watching because I was hoping it’d get better. By the last few episodes they were just playing in the background.

    This disappoints me because I really love Twin Peaks and Eli Roth, and putting those 2 together would’ve been awesome.

    Oh well.

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