Hemlock Grove: The Complete First Season Blu-ray Review
Directed by various
Written by Brian McGreevy and Lee Shipman
2013, Region A, 780 minutes, Not rated
Blu-ray released on October 7th, 2014
Famke Janssen as Olivia Godfrey
Landon Liboiron as Peter Rumancek
Bill Skarsgård as Roman Godfrey
Penelope Mitchell as Letha Godfrey
Dougray Scott as Norman Godfrey
Lili Taylor as Lynda Rumancek
Kandyse McClure as Dr. Clementine Chasseur
Freya Tingley as Christina Wendall
Madeleine Martin as Shelley Godfrey
Kaniehtiio Horn as Destiny
The small Pennsylvania town of Hemlock Grove was once a thriving community, but now the main business outlet is The Tower, a giant structure in the heart of the city owned and operated by the Godfrey family. There is no limit to their money or power, and their reach extends far and wide. Matriarch (and widow) Olivia is a strong woman with a firm grip on the family empire, but she is shocked to learn her son Roman is spending his time hanging out with the social outcast (pronounced: gypsy) Peter Rumancek. Making matters worse, the dirty scamp has started dating the beautiful Letha Godfrey, something that sits well with neither Olivia nor (initially) Roman.
Peter and Roman have been brought together in an unlikely friendship following the brutal murder of a high school student, possibly at the hands of a psychopath, but likely a victim of an animal attack. Not helping matters are the rumors circulating throughout town that Peter is actually a werewolf. The crime has attracted the attention of Dr. Clementine Chasseur of the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Roman's uncle Norman is a psychiatrist caring for Christina Wendall, a young student who discovered a second bloody victim. She is responsible for spreading the rumors about Peter, but as things take a dark turn in the coming months, more people will grow curious about the boy's secrets.
Hemlock Grove was inspired by the book of the same name by authors Brian McGreevy and Lee Shipman. There are many familiar elements in the tone of this show, as it was clearly influenced by earlier programs including Dark Shadows, Twin Peaks and Wild Palms. The problem with positioning oneself in the shadow of greatness is the pressure to successfully entertain your audience without falling into mimicry. Younger viewers not raised on Gothic mysteries will surely eat this up, while more seasoned audience members will recognize the inspiration and possibly find satisfaction. The typical response will likely be frustration, as there are too many subplots fighting for attention while introducing an endless stream of nefarious characters, only to willingly write them out for extended periods of time.
Famke Janssen (100 Feet) stars as Olivia Godfrey, a woman with a hypnotic personality who is used to getting what she wants. The actress commands your attention in every scene she is in and brings an intensity to the character that is strong enough to make you overlook the inconsistent accent. Bill Skarsgård (Behind Blue Skies) is Roman, Olivia's troubled son coming of age during this bizarre season of murder. He shares a nice onscreen chemistry with Landon Liboiron (Altitude), who is engaging as Peter, who lives in a trailer on the outskirts of town with his mother, the always-welcome Lili Taylor (Six Feet Under). The most intriguing character in the bunch is Roman's sister Shelley (Madeleine Martin, Californication), a sad, disfigured mute who towers over everyone around her.
Executive Producer Eli Roth (Cabin Fever) is throwing everything at the wall, but not enough sticks in this first season to be completely cohesive. I found the show entertaining, but difficult to recommend, as there is as much energy spent advancing future plot lines to the detriment to what is supposed to be the heart of season one. Everything is effectively wrapped up in a way that had the show not been renewed (it was), audiences would have enjoyed a brief visit into a bizarre world. Hopefully season two will be a bit more focused and reduce the amount of back-story exposition of secondary (or even tertiary) characters.
Video and Audio:
Hemlock Grove is presented in the original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and the transfer is every bit as solid as one would expect from a contemporary production. There is plenty of small-object detail and a nicely stable image throughout the numerous moments of evening fog. Colors are strong and flesh tones remain natural throughout.
The default DTS-HD MA 5.1 track makes nice use of the rear channels during the animal attack scenes and other elements of horror are represented with some directional effects too. Music cues are impressive without drowning out dialogue.
English subtitles are provided for anyone in need.
Eli Roth provides an enthusiastic audio commentary on the series pilot episode, which he also directed. His love of the genre is apparent and there is no time for lengthy silences, as the man has the gift of gab. New viewers will want to avoid this track until after completing the season, as he drops a spoiler or two.
The video based supplements arrive largely in the form of a collection of short featurettes that focus on different aspects of the series, with a variety of behind-the-scenes interviews taken on set during production. Dysfunctional in Every Way (11 minutes) introduces the characters, Fairy-Tales for Adults (7 minutes) studies the design of the show and It Hurts So Good (5 minutes) looks at the make-up effects involved in the first transformation sequence. The Rust Beneath the Surface (5 minutes) looks at locations while The Monster Within (6 minutes) studies the subtext of the material. The final installment, Anatomy of a Kill (5 minutes), examines the work that went into filming the attack and reveal of the first victim.
A collection of trailers and TV spots round out the special features.