Hemlock Groves on Netflix; a Review
Hemlock Grove is a Netflix original series that was aired as a web only series when it was first released in 2013. Though it receive great awards for being a web only series, it really did rise in popularity or become well known until was released onto other mediums like Netflix for Xbox Live. The third and final series was released this October 2015, revealing the sick and twisted demise of all but three of the characters in the story.
It wasn't easy to tell until near the end of the first season, but Hemlock Grove is a story about a lovesick gypsy werewolf boy and an uptight repressed rich boy vampire, known as an Upir in the story. Hemlock Grove is the story of their lives as they wade through their extremely messy lives and horrible families, while attempting to salvage whatever parts of them can be considered good and human.
A Review of Hemlock Grove
As said above, this series is the "kill 'em all" sort of story, where in the end, everyone dies or gets to the point where they can never go back to the original elements of the story. So in a way, even those who didn't physically die, have still died in the eyes of the reader or viewer. Personally, I love stories like these, because there's no question in the end about what happened to the characters. That being said, I can't say that Hemlock Grove was as to die for as the plot is.
Roman and Peter, the plots main characters were definitely interesting and they leaned more heavily towards traditional creatures of the night, which I have a feeling was more to do with portraying the characters as nothing like the creatures of Stephanie Meyers Twilight. They really didn't stray far enough though, as Roman was just as distraught as Edward, and Peter was almost always lovesick over Roman's sloppy seconds. The only inherent differences lied in the fact that Roman was much more fucked up then Edward would ever become and Peter didn't have a pack of other werewolves with him and he couldn't transform into a wolf whenever he wanted without severe consequences. Other than that, you'll see plenty of similarities, making Hemlock Grove almost a parody of Twilight, but with an extremely morbid tone and no happy endings.
To tell you the truth, I had an extremely hard time getting into the first series. There was plenty of drama, but little intrigue. The bad boy Roman went around shagging just about any woman he could, flirting with his cousin and showing his strange taste for his own blood. The only supernatural thing about him was his ability to compel people to do what he wanted, and even that was not overly interesting. Peter, who was probably named for the "Peter and the Wolf" fairy tale, was just a gypsy kid who moved into his dead uncles old trailer in the woods with his mom. The most interesting thing about him was his deeply soulful eyes and the weird relationship he developed with the towns oddest preteen girl Christina, who cleverly surmised that Peter was a werewolf because his ring and middle fingers were the same length. For the first few episodes, neither character had much to do with each other and the story kind of ran around making little sense at first. Olivia, Roman's cold bitchy mother, went about her seemingly human business and Roman's horribly disfigured sister Shelley stayed up in her attic room. Most of the stories other compelling characters really didn't hold much sway in the early episodes.
The plot didn't thicken until Peter revealed to his mother that Roman was an Upir, but didn't know it himself. From there, things got stranger and more morose. Romans cousin suddenly became pregnant through immaculate conception from an angel, Peter and Roman became crime solving friends of sorts, Olivia revealed herself as the family whore with a serious narcissist streak and Dr. Johann just barely began to show his demented scientist side.
I think my biggest gripe with this story, is that it took forever for the main characters to be revealed for what they really were. To be honest, if it weren't for the fact that I really wanted to know what the hell they were, I probably would've gone back to my rerun marathon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer before the first season of HG was even halfway over. That being said, sticking with the series just to find out what was really wrong with these demented characters, did turn out to be somewhat worth it in the end, mostly because it's been a long time since I've stuck through such a horrific incestuous story.
I think in the end, what really kept me around was neither Roman or Peter, but for Olivia, as weird as that sounds. Her story was almost more messed up than even that of her son, who was a disaster of her own creation. The beginning of Olivia's story wouldn't be revealed until the beginning of the second season, where it shows her hundreds of years prior as a small girl, just barely into puberty, who runs away with her gypsy lover, gets abandoned by him and then commits suicide after cutting off her weird little tail. She then ends up coming back to life right when her father finds her in the bloody snow. It's then that she reveals that Upir's are initiated into their bloody adult lifestyles only after they die at their own hands. Following that, a short scene shows young Olivia, who couldn't have been older than 12, having a baby. Even though her father made plans to ensure the baby could stay and no shame would come to the family, Olivia cannot stand to keep the baby. She says it's because it's shameful to have had a baby with a gypsy boy who couldn't even stay with her, but we all know it's because she was so completely heartbroken. When this early part of her life is revealed, is simultaneously happening at the same time that she is trying to convince Roman to eat his own incestual daughter to trick him into killing himself to spite her, so at the time it just seems like a strange way of explaining why she's such a horrid person. Though after Roman attempts, and nearly succeeds in killing her, the plot reveals that Upir's are not entirely immune from all diseases and Olivia contracts a strange sort of cancer that leaves her slightly crippled and takes away some of her "Upir'ness", which apparently includes a huge lack of empathy. When that happens, she becomes much less cold and much more human, and attempts to make amends for her horrible ways with the various other characters in the show. The only real problem with this, was her deep narcissism, which kept her from doing anything that wasn't in her own best interest. I do give her credit though, as once she realized the cancer was going to kill her, she did attempt to change her ways and devout herself to Norman and become a better mother. Though as with any good villain, she was driven back into her dastardly ways when her lover discovered what she really was and what she had done (including killing his ex-wife) and attempted to kill her. Then she ripped out his heart, killed her daughters newly made body (courtesy of Dr. Johann) for sustenance and terrorized Dr. Johann for not curing her when he had the means. At the beginning of the last season, it was revealed that Olivia's cancer was back and that it wasn't just any ordinary cancer, it was in fact a specially designed cancer, just for Upir's. This particular cancer, developed by a vile and ancient creature, was specifically made to turn Upir's into cannibals of their own species and then cause their bodies to slowly kill of the infected Upir's, starting with the mind and then ending with complete cannibalism of oneself. Try as she might, Olivia couldn't find a new body to transfer her consciousness into and ended up alone, hallucinating an embarrassing acting scene in a play she didn't know, as she began to eat herself alive.
Olivia was more like the hidden main character of the show, who lead just about everything in secret, until the last season. She had the most depth when it came to emotional spectrum's, compared to the other characters, which was only challenged by her deformed daughter Shelley, who was really the only "good" character in the series, by any standard. And while we're on the topic of Shelley, I have to say I loved her role as well. She started out as a deformed and neglected girl who couldn't speak or really care for herself, who was hidden away from the world and only really loved by Roman, who was so narcissistic himself, to really be there for her. In the end, she was the bravest and most heartfelt character out of them all, and the only one who didn't get everyone she loved killed. Shelley, her strange boyfriend and Roman's demon child who would be the only ones to be physically alive at the shows end, and it's good to see it to. After having died, been reborn into a new clone body with normal human features and then brought back to life in her old body, only to find her new self torn up by her mother, it was good to see that in the end she had some form of happy ending. It was still a ridiculously demented ending, but happy non-the-less.
Overall, Hemlock brought a modern twist to very old tragedies, mixing and intertwining fantasy, science fiction and a Shakespearean sense of morbidity. I can't say I was much for all the incest and twisted relationships in this particular show, especially when it came to Roman's sick relationship with his older sister. That being said, the rest of the story wasn't all bad. It was twisted and wicked in many ways, but well written for the audience it was designed for. The only thing I really would've changed was the introductory theme song that played for every single episode, which always made me feel horribly depressed. I almost turned to a different show every time I heard the theme song playing, as it really wasn't a great spec of musical talent for that matter. That being said, it was fitting with the morose vibe the show had in general.
All in all, I'd rate Hemlock Grove with 3 out of 5 stars. It wasn't horrible, but I doubt I'd watch it again or recommend it to anyone without a particular taste for this type of show.
Main Character List
Roman Godfrey - Over-privileged Upir boy, who has a taste for incest, hookers and lots of blood. He's perpetually caught in the paradox of being a psychotic killer developed by his mother and a heartbroken, uber neglected boy who only wants to be loved in spite of his many downfalls.
Peter Romancek - Overly-sensitive gypsy werewolf mamas-boy with a horrible habit of getting himself into trouble. He wants nothing more than to be the eternal hero, saving everyone he can and avenging anyone he couldn't save. Willing as ever to risk his own sanity and humanity, Peter eventually gives in to the wolf inside him and becomes a deranged Vargulf.
Olivia Godfrey - Roman's sick and twisted Upir mother with a serious narcissist problem and no problem sexually getting through her problems, or killing anyone who wasn't amused by her charms.
Shelley Godfrey - Kind and extremely deformed younger sister to Roman, who wants nothing more than to be normal, which is just never going to happen.
Dr. Johann Pryce - The shows resident mad scientist with hysterical strength, plagued with the idea that he's going to become world renowned for cloning, consciousness replication and various other crazy, cool and sick inventions.
Norman Godfrey - Roman's uncle, Olivia's lover, Shelley's father figure and the resident psychologist at Hemlock Acres (psychiatric facility) and part owner to the White Tower.
Nadia - The child of Roman and his cousin Letha, who was conceived when they were hypnotically forced together by the Jorgammunder Dr. Spivac demon doctor who wanted to create the girl to become his source of perfect eggs to fertilized and create more of his own kind. Nadia had brief roles in the show, but was definitely an interesting fictional creation. I mean, who wouldn't fall in love with a baby who can kill you just by looking at you?
Destiny - Peter's promiscuous and psychic gypsy cousin, who has a great knack for whipping up psychotropic potions and divining the future in the riskiest ways possible.
The supporting characters throughout the rest of the story included the many lovers of both Roman and Peter, various family members, doctors, police investigators, church supported demon hunters, ancient demons hell bent on bringing the end of days and of course, the townsfolk. Just about all of the supporting characters ended up dead in some very gruesome ways.
Hemlock Grove was such a twisted tale, it become a sticky ordeal to attempt to weed out who the real bad guys were. That being said, there were some that were more obvious than others.
Dr. Spivak - The demon Jorgammunder who wanted to bring the end of days by reproducing more of his kind after killing the Upir incest baby Nadia and then feeding live humans to his spawn. He was also the creator of the LPS (Loops) Upir virus that ended up decimating more than half of the world's peaceful Upir population and created a mutant vampires that ate their own kind, went insane and then devoured themselves.
The Christian Church - In it's various forms, the church wanted to simultaneously kill and control the Upir's and werewolves of the world. This came out in the form of papal bounty hunters, apocalyptic child killing cults, papal deal makers and a corrupted police chief.
Christina Wendall - The eccentric town girl who had an obsession with discovering all the weirdest things about her home town and the people in it, and also the first vargulf from the first season, who ended up killing off her friends and then being killed off by the sweet Shelley before she could finish off Peter. This was a hard decision, and while some might protest and suggest that she was merely a victim of mental illness coupled with supernatural werewolf abilities, but in the end she was still a villain for this story. As with countless other stories that like to display the depth of character inherent in all real villains, Christian was a villain through nature rather than nurture.
Olivia Godfrey - This was another hard choice, not because it was hard to see her as a true villain, but instead because it was so easy to point that finger at her. Olivia was kind of on the same coin as Christina, but on the opposite side. Instead of becoming a ruthless and bittersweet killer by nature, she became the cold leading woman through a lack of nurture and plenty of unfortunate events where she continued to make bad choices.
Awards and Recognition
Netflix reported more members watched the first season online than those that watched the premier of House of Cards and received several awards including:
- Outstanding Main Title Theme Music (wft?)
- Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Visual Special Effects
- 65th Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Award
In the end, there were mixed reviews about the show, but a majority of well-published reviewers gave the show rather rancid reviews, including one from Dante D'Orazio from The Verge which said that show was 'universally panned' on account of it's "Poor acting, slow development and off-key style". Even the so called positive reviewers were conflicting, with one review from David Hiltbrand at the Philadelphia Enquirer who said, "the show manages to be lush, gross, frightening and ridiculous all at the same time."
That being said, Cnet reviewers and most Netflix reviewers have given Hemlock Grove a 4 out of 5 rating. Personally, I wouldn't have rated it as bad as most of the critics, but I can understand their anguish. Even just a faster plot development would have given this $45 million dollar production a huge lift.
The Good, Bad and Especially Ugly
The Good: This movie was a good transition back towards traditional monsters of the night, and definitely weaved in some interesting renditions on ancient folk tales and fae creatures. In my opinion the acting really wasn't that bad, though there was definitely room for improvement among many of the main characters. Despite the ups and downs with the acting, I really enjoyed the characters that were involved, including most of the supporting characters. None of them were truly good or truly bad, though some leaned heavier towards one spectrum or another, but nearly all of them had deep stories and perspectives that brought them to life. I imagine a book with this same story would give the plot and characters much more life.
The special effects were definitely worth the award they received and I would mind seeing that fx team join with some of the other fantasy series out there, as they did a fantastic job with various transformations that previously never took place in direct second perspective, leaving viewers wanting.
I would say also that the ending of this series was good as well. They did leave a tiny bit of room for another season or a new series, but not much room, which was actually good in this case. With all of the main characters being as messed up and foul as they were, it was rather relieving that they all died, which is not something I find myself enjoying in a story very often.
The Bad: This show was rather depressing. While that might be entertaining for certain viewers, it's not really my taste. There are moments to be sad, moments to be angry, moments to be happy, etc. Having an entire show be based on whats wrong in the world and the pain and anguish of the characters in it, is just to melancholy to really make this a great show.
In addition to that, HG seemed to focus more on the violence and gore than on the story itself. Sure, it's crazy and compelling to have a super smart half demon baby that can kill you with her telekinetic powers, but did she really have to kill the monkey by making it explode from the inside out? Was that really necessary? The same could be said for much of the Upir killings. It just wasn't necessary for half of the people who died, to be so severely ripped up. And while it may have been suspenseful, I really didn't need to see Peter have his eyes and most of his face ripped out in the first season when he fought the vargulf. The point could've been gotten without the butt-load of horrific graphics they included.
As I said earlier, I'm not a fan of incest. Yes, it does add drama and plot twists, but at some point you just get tired of it. It was strange enough that Roman had a thing for his cousin, yet they still managed to toe the line and not get it on, or so we thought, until Letha ended up pregnant and it was later revealed to be Roman's child. Then in season 3 you go full on with Roman and his sister in a bloody sexual frenzy at the blood bank. I would've been more okay with that scene, had it not later been revealed that Anna new full well that Roman was her brother and allowed it to happen anyways, and then later had a full on violent sexual encounter with Roman when she went to apologize. Then you add in the scene where Olivia has transferred her own consciousness to a male Upir and then they attempt to get it on. Sure, the new body is not the old body and I can see the genius of that scene in terms of writing something that doesn't happen often in stories, but still, the idea just bent my mind the wrong way. Ick.
The Ugly: In horror thriller genres like these, you definitely expect there to be murder and shocking plot twists of all kinds, but it's rare when I find myself watching or reading something that results in so much childhood death, especially to the degree that this show takes it. I honestly feel like if they hadn't started out the show with so much child killing, they might have won over a lot more folks. The deaths of the twin girls, the strange kissing of the dead girl by the preteen Christina, the newborn baby killing by Olivia, the gruesome murder of young children by the apocalyptic cult, the suicide seen by Miranda who tried to kill Nadia with her and then the attempted murder by being chopped up to become demon spawn by the demon doctor. It was just too much. Murder is bad enough, even in a horror film, but when it comes to the deaths of children, your mind starts to check out because it's not okay.
The slow plot development is another thing I would place in the ugly category, as it just made you impatient and ready to turn to another show. You want your viewers to be on the edge of their seats in anticipation for the next plot twist, not on the edge of their seats ready to get up and leave.
What did you think of the show?
Roman's Mother, Upir
Main protagonist, Upir
Main antagonist, Gypsy Werewolf
Roman's Deformed sister
Nicole Boivin, Madeleine Martin & Amazon Eve
Peter's Psychic Cousin
Dr. Johann Pryce
Mad scientist at the White Tower
Joel De La Fuente
Dr. Norman Godfrey
Roman's Uncle, Psychiatrist
Surrogate Mom to Nadia
Papal Demon Hunter
Roman's Cousin, Nadia's Mom
Olivia's orphaned child, Roman's Upir half sister
Camille De Pazzis
Dr. Arnold Spivak
Norman's Wife, Letha's Mother
Gypsy criminal, Destiny's fiance
Dr. Galina Zhelezhnova-Burdukovskaya
Brilliant assistant to Dr. Pryce
Private detective, Chongo Fan
Dr. Klaus Blinsky
Twitchy assistant to Dr. Pryce