Hemlock Grove sheds new light on gothic horror.Hemlock Grove, an original series produced for and available exclusively on Netflix, is a fascinating contemporary gothic drama. Upon first glance, the mere mention of werewolves, vampires, and teen ennui would typically frighten most serious fans of horror away from Hemlock Grove. But, in the great gothic tradition, looks can be entirely deceiving.
Produced by contemporary horror luminary Eli Roth, Hemlock Grove is a 13-episode season available only on Netflix. Following in the footsteps of other Netflix original series like Lillehammer, House of Cards, and the fourth season of Arrested Development, Hemlock Grove similarly fits and fills a particular niche of TV viewers looking for something a little different than the standard network fare.Every episode of Hemlock is available immediately, making it ideal for marathon viewings. Like the other aforementioned Netflix series, every episode of Hemlock is available immediately, making it ideal for marathon viewings. Hemlock is aptly rated TV-MA, which gives the writers and actors near free-reign to embrace both their adult audience, and the explicit (and in turn, implicit) themes inherent to the gothic horror genre. The series does a great job of exploring the identity of contemporary horror: Hemlock delights in the profane.
Characters are multifaceted, full of secrets and abhorrent desires. Vulgarity, drug use, and drinking are commonplace amongst the young cast, as are an array of provocative sex scenes. This approach recognizes and re-imagines tropes of horror: there is tension between the homosocial and heterosocial; the sacred and the obscene; nature and artifice. Fans of horror in the literary tradition will have a considerable cache of loaded imagery and symbolism to pick through.Hemlock, for all its accomplishments, still brings a few minor quibbles. Hemlock, for all its accomplishments, still brings a few minor quibbles. For instance, cliff-hanger endings are common practice in dramatic shows, but there are a couple of episodes of Hemlock that end so abruptly that they betray that episode’s carefully-wound tension.
Additionally, the action in Hemlock may leave horror fans wanting, as there can be a notable lack of action scenes in some episodes. A select few episodes seem to languor a bit too long, though it makes the plot’s revelations all the more significant because of Hemlock’s slow-burn method of storytelling.
You would expect, with body-horror icon Eli Roth at the helm, a far higher body count and a lingering dread for character’s fingers and limbs, but Hemlock shows restraint in its violence. That’s not to say there aren’t the occasional graphic, gore-drenched moments, but the series achieves more because of its control over what is seen and unseen.The rare incidents of graphic gore and violence serve to punctuate the macabre setting.The rare incidents of graphic gore and violence serve to punctuate the macabre setting. Special effects wizard Greg Nicotero (Army of Darkness, The Walking Dead, Hostel, Kill Bill) lends his phenomenal talents to the grizzly murders and stunning transformations. Particularly noteworthy is a character’s violent morphing into a wolf, vividly realized with both practical and digital effects. Not only is this scene strong visually, it also carries deeper, figurative connotations; we see the wolf shed its human skin, only to feast upon its former, sloughed-off flesh.
Hemlock draws from seminal gothic works such as Shelley’s Frankenstein, Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey, and other greats. There are some interesting themes that add a genuine twist to traditional gothic tropes: a vampire turning its gaze inward; a werewolf willing itself to transform, unbound of the full moon; examples like these—violations of the natural order of the unnatural—are sure to delight fans of true horror.
Horror shows, Hemlock being no exception, are definitely more enjoyable viewed within this context. Close scrutiny kills some of the magic and momentum; there are limited locations, special effects are used only occasionally, and the acting can seem canned at moments. However, the locations are splendidly realized (a grand mansion, a dilapidated steel mill, a gypsy motor home) and the acting is, more often than not, surprisingly moving.
Hemlock marches to its own drum and adds its own unique, high-concept gothic twist to the all-too-popular werewolf/vampire/teen drama. First impressions can be deadly, and to write off Hemlock as an imitation would be a discredit to the inspired horror on display here.