As predicted, Hemlock Grove is not a subtle show. The very first scene has both boobs and blood, setting the tone (I imagine) for the whole series. Not that I am opposed to either of these things, necessarily. But the blood (not to mention the boobs) must be organic to the narrative, and I can’t help but feel that here, as in so much popular horror, they are just about titillating viewers.
If that’s your thing, then great. But again, it is not subtle.
In terms of the narrative, it couldn’t be simpler: A young girl, who seems to be having a lesbian affair with her high school physics teacher (who is also a published quantum theorist? is the job market that bad?), is on her way to meet said teacher one night when she stops at a railroad to wait for a train to pass. While she waits she sends a text to the teacher, but suddenly something attacks and drags her out of the car, chases her through the woods and ultimately disembowels her in a playhouse in a public park. An investigation is launched, and of course the newly-arrived Gypsy folk come under suspicion. We also meet the main cast: the rich, snobby, apparently black-magic-practicing Godfreys; and the Gypsy Rumanceks.
The first episode contains crazy levels of stereotyping. The Gypsies not only steal stuff, but also own one of those tag-remover things so they can take the security devices off their stolen clothing. They are also, right from the outset, experts on supernatural stuff. Almost from the first, young Peter (Landon Liboiron) asks questions that reveal his possible knowledge of the (I assume) occult nature of the aforementioned murder.
The rich white WASPy folks, meanwhile, are coke-addled, possibly incestuous occultists. Famke Janssen‘s affected British accent and hoity-toity idioms are kind of annoying, but she has an appropriately vampiric quality that I suppose makes sense in a horror setting.
Despite the shallow, lazy stereotypes, I’ll give it a shot. They’ve set up some blatant racism on the part of the townsfolk, who are instantly scornful of Peter and his mother (Lily Taylor), which sort of complicates the easy Gypsy stereotypes (the filmmakers seem to be acknowledging that Roma are discriminated against, at least). And Peter, at least, seems to be a likable character, even if the rest of the cast are overdoing things a bit.
Also, with the first-episode murder and the sense that at least part of the series will be spent identifying the culprit, the whole thing already has a pleasingly Twin Peaks quality about it. And TP was nothing if not full of deliberate stereotypes (perhaps not of the ethnic type, except for Hawk, but stereotypes nonetheless). So I’ll wait a bit longer before writing it off.
The entire series is now available on Netflix. I probably won’t review episodes individually, but I may check back in with some thoughts on the series from time to time–depending on how far I get.