In a small Pennsylvania town, something evil has come in search of prey. But who is the true monster in Hemlock Grove? The brutal slaying of a teenage girl sends the townspeople of Hemlock Grove into a desperate search to find her killer. But this sleepy community soon finds itself living a nightmare as secrets and rumors threaten to drive them all down a dark path as they struggle to uncover the truth. As they hunt for a monster among them, rumors mount and many of the eccentric residents become suspects, from the newly-arrived Gypsy family to the wealthy Godfrey clan. In the twisted world of Hemlock Grove, everyone hides a dark secret.
From its opening scene, 'Hemlock Grove' has no idea what it wants to be as a series and, sadly, that is its biggest downfall. You see, the pilot opens with one of the two main characters, Roman Godfrey (played by Bill Skarsgård – who, yes, is the younger brother of Alexander), having a sexual encounter with a hot female in a scene that includes plenty of topless nudity. Later in the pilot, we'll get a fair amount of gore as one of the town's females is mauled to death by an unknown assailant. However, everything that comes in between those moments is the kind of stuff you'd see on a TV series playing on the CW. The show seems to have no idea if it wants to play for an adult audience or gear itself toward teens, and the result is a series that neither age group is likely to enjoy.
The show is based on a 2012 novel by Brian McGreevy that gives us new versions of archetypical classic monsters all in one series. There's a vampire here (Skarsgård's character), along with his sister (played by 'Californication's Madeleine Martin), who is basically this show's version of Frankenstein's monster. There's a werewolf too, named Peter (all too obvious, yes?) Rumancek (Landon Liboiron), who shares lead co-star status with Skarsgård's character. After the killing in the pilot is followed by a number of other deaths, vampire and werewolf team up to see if they can track down the killer. As I said, there's a very CW-vibe running through this show, despite its often graphic nudity, violence, and language.
There are some grown-ups along for the ride too, primarily in the form of Famke Janssen and Dougray Scott, who – if nothing else – allow viewers to release a sigh of relief that Scott was unable to play Wolverine in the X-Men movies, as he and Janssen have zero chemistry. Janssen plays Roman's mother, Olivia, who is a widow and heir to the vast Godfrey Industries empire that pretty much owns the town, while Scott plays Dr. Norman Godfrey, a psychiatrist and the brother of Olivia's now-deceased husband. The two are having an affair, and seem to have been for a very long time, although it's one of those relationships where the male seems to want out, but keeps finding himself drawn to the female, nevertheless. Godfrey has a daughter, Letha (Penelope Mitchell), who announces early on in Season 1 that she's pregnant…and an angel is the father. Yeah, better just not to ask.
With a murder mystery as its launching point, and with all these various monsters and different types of creatures in one town, why is 'Hemlock Grove' such an unbelievably dull show? For every few minutes of excitement or the appearance that the plot is progressing, there are undeterminably long periods in each and every episode where the characters just stand around and talk about…nothing. Well, at least nothing very interesting. It's almost as if the writers only came up with two hours of storyline and decided to stretch it out over 13 episodes. In fact, it's exactly like that.
While much of the blame should fall on the writing staff, the actors aren't free from blame, either. The veterans here are actually worse than the younger talent. Janssen gives her character this incredibly awful English(?) accent that makes virtually every one of her scenes laughable. Scott has this bored look on his face throughout that makes him look like he just showed up for the paycheck. If any of the senior staff deserves credit here, it's Battlestar Galactica alumnus Aaron Douglas, who plays the town's sheriff and makes each scene he's in (almost) watchable. It's a shame he couldn't have been the lead in this series.
'Hemlock Grove' is running exclusively on Netflix, and should you have the desire to check out this train wreck (which actually got renewed for not one, but two more seasons – one of which has already been made available), I suggest going there (assuming you have a subscription) instead of spending hard-earned dollars on this Blu-ray release. I've read things get better during the second season, but I don't know why anyone would invest their energy and time into a show that's such a disaster from the get-go.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Hemlock Grove' arrives on Blu-ray in a slightly oversized keepcase that includes a hub, which houses the first two dual-layer discs in the set. Disc three is located on the inside right of the box. The reverse side of the keepcase slick (seen from inside the box) contains short descriptions of all 13 of Season 1's episodes, as well as which disc they are located on. Also listed are the disc's bonus features.
There are no front-loaded trailers on any of the discs, which goes straight to the main menu (after brief FBI and Scream Factory logo screens). The menu is sort of a motion video version of the series' logo, with selections along the bottom of the screen.
This Blu-ray release is Region A locked.
Season 1 of 'Hemlock Grove' was shot digitally on Arri Alexa cameras and is presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. While the image is consistently sharp throughout and reveals a lot of detail, I had a real issue with how 'warm' everything looks. The series is supposed to be set in Pennsylvania, and while a few scenes in the pilot were shot in the Pittsburgh area (home of yours truly), the majority of the series is filmed in Toronto. While a good cinematographer can make any location look like somewhere else, I'm afraid the bright colors here make 'Hemlock Grove' look more like a show that takes place in Southern California than in Northeast America, despite the fact that Toronto is only a handful of hours away from Pennsylvania.
However, even though I'm not fond of the look of 'Hemlock Grove', there's no denying that the actual Blu-ray transfer is pretty impressive – with detailed images, solid black levels, and consistent skin tones and contrast throughout (although, again, on the warm side of the color spectrum). I detected no noticeable or obvious issues with aliasing, haloing, banding, or other frequently seen problems. So this is a good transfer, despite my issues with the way the series has been shot.
The main audio option is an English 5.1 DTS-HD MA track, that more than serves the needs of this show. Dialogue is crisp, clear, and – for the most part – front and center throughout the series. The rears are active, but really only noticeable to one's ears when the musical soundtrack kicks in, or during a particularly action-packed scene (which are surprisingly few and far between in 'Hemlock Grove'). I picked up on some ambient noise throughout, but it's pretty light and the track never provides an immersive feel to it. Directionality is also all but non-existent, as are any really noticeable LFE effects.
Overall, though, the track is solid and serviceable, and most viewers will have few complaints. I will credit the track for being well balanced, so when things like the soundtrack or other additional noises kick in, they never drown out the spoken word nor have you diving for the remote to turn the volume down.
Also available is a French 5.1 DTS-HD MA track for each episode, as well as English subtitles.
'Hemlock Grove' wants to be an amalgamation of Twilight and True Blood, but it's a show that can never seem to decide if it's aiming for teenagers or an adult audience. It's also pretty aimless in its storytelling, not to mention downright boring in huge chunks. Both the writing and acting are borderline horrible. I wanted to like this, but could find little worth recommending. The technical aspects here are pretty good though, and the extras aren't too bad, which means this Blu-ray release is for fans only.