Hemlock Grove: Season 1 (2013)

DVD Cover (Scream Factory)
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Overall Rating 70%
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Ranked #2,516
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Connections: Hemlock Grove

One cannot quench his all-consuming thirst. The other cannot tame the beast clawing its way out. In the sleepy Pennsylvania village of Hemlock Grove, two young men struggle to accept painful truths: about family, themselves, the mystery of the White Tower - and a terrifying new threat so powerful it will turn them from predators into prey. --TMDb
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Review by Crispy
Added: August 27, 2017
I was initially planning on reviewing Hemlock Grove next February during my annual werewolf celebration, but I was over at my friend's house and his girlfriend wanted to watch it. Although it does have a werewolf in it, after seeing how minimally it factored into the plot, I decided there was no need to wait.

Now, this is a series that has a lot going on; there are a lot of characters that intertwine in and out, so it might be a bit hard to keep up. After his grandfather passes away, Peter Rumanchek has moved into his trailer with his mother in the small town of Hemlock Grove, PA. The pair are of gypsy descent, and given the entire town's vendetta against the people life isn't going to be easy for them, and that's before his young neighbor begins spreading rumors that he's a werewolf. Not that life is easy in Hemlock Grove anyway; after the steel mill closed down, the town's economy was rocked and only the mill's former owners, the uber-wealthy Godfreys are able to avoid wallowing in poverty. Not that they don't have their own share of trouble; after Mr. Godfrey commit suicide, it's all the ice cold Olivia Godfrey can do to keep the family reputation intact with her deformed daughter, Shelly, and antisocial son, Roman. The closest thing to a friend he has is his cousin, Letha, so it's only natural he quickly makes friends with fellow outcast, Peter. Making matters even worse, a series of brutal killings have the entire town on edge. Recognizing the attacks from his gypsy history, Peter deduces the killer as a vargulf, a mentally unstable werewolf, and sets about stopping its rampage with Roman's help. Meanwhile, a secret division of the church has sent Dr. Chasseur, posing as a Fish and Wildlife Officer, has also arrived in the town to stop the raging the beasts. Despite her experience, the teens may have the one-up on her. You see, not only are the rumors about Peter's lycanthrophy actually true, but Roman has the power to control people's minds.

This review is going to be a little difficult to write since after just one season I have so little to work with, but one thing I can say for it is that it's playing the WTF card the right way. There's obvious a lot we don't know about the Godfreys and the Rumanceks, but by and large, we know what we need to do to understand the current events of the series' main plot line: the vargulf. It's a nice balance; it's a lot easier to enjoy the story without trying to hurdle gaping holes of missing information, but there's still plenty of mystery to keep the next few seasons intriguing. Hell, even the world itself raises eyebrows. It's a world where a woman like Shelly, an eight foot tall behemoth whose right half of her face resembles an alien from a science fiction movie is admittedly teased and ostracized, but otherwise no further thought is given to such an unnatural visage. The town wide gypsy racism is another head scratcher. While an entire town having a racist streak certainly isn't uncommon, the gypsy target is certainly a little unusual.

Truth be told, I'm petty happy that I didn't get this going in February. Peter being a werewolf is a much less significant factor than his being a gypsy, and even though the vargulf attacks are ostensibly the season's main plot line, they're a very small percentage of the show's running time. The actual focus on the show is on the various relationships between the characters, and with such a huge collection of dysfunctional people, it's easy to see why this approach was successful. Plus, this is not a one-dimensional group by any means; given the sheer number of characters, being able to give them all their own unique arcs was an impressive feat. It goes a long way in making the few scenes centered on the vargulf more effective. Along with the aforementioned mystery of the town's secrets, there are a lot of facets to keep things interesting.

As consistent as the writing was, the acting is all over the place. Truly stealing the show is Famke Janssen as Olivia Godfrey. There's a vulnerable emotion buried deep under Olivia's icy exterior, and Janssen plays that subtlety beautifully. The other mother in the show, Lynda Rumanchek, also had the benefit of a competent actress. Lili Taylor's role was much smaller than Janssen's, but she was able to give the character a quirky charm that lined up well with her gypsy background. Kandyse McClure had quite the task with Dr. Chasseur; she's a dedicated woman with a mission, but she's fighting a losing battle against alcoholism and her fading faith. She handled the nuanced role without breaking a sweat. With all that said, the average is dropped significantly by the next generation. Bill Skarsgård and Landon Liboiron weren't exactly bad as Roman and Peter, but they weren't good either. It's a shame too, because they're both well-written characters and better acting could have really taken advantage of this.

Overall, I rather liked Hemlock Grove. It's certainly set itself up to be a nice mind-fuck; here's hoping the next two seasons are able to follow through. 7/10.
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