Release Date(s)2013 (October 7, 2014)
Studio(s)Netflix (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: C+
Hemlock Grove tells the story of a small town in Pennsylvania with a strange history and a grizzly future. A series of murders begin taking place just as a couple of gypsies move into the town, with the finger ultimately pointed at them for the crimes. One of them is befriended by the town’s spoiled rich kid, but the two soon learn that their meeting wasn’t exactly happenstance. Werewolves, vampires, secret experiments, and family drama intervene in the quiet life of the town, and it’s up to the two of them to discover the truth, or die trying.
I have to say that I had really high hopes for Hemlock Grove when I first put it on and checked it out for myself. It had a strong opening set of episodes that hooked me right away and made me want to keep watching. The characters were interesting and I wanted to learn more about them, the show didn’t rely heavily on CGI – blending it well with practical make-up and special effects, and it dulled out its information slowly, building up the tension in the situations at hand and the characters as well. I have to say though that that was before the show’s middle section came up and it nearly derailed it completely for me. I can’t get into specifics because there are far too many spoilers for me to go over it as thoroughly as I’d like, but it felt like it had run out of steam and was just throwing anything and everything into the mix, and seemed to forget about what came before it.
Thankfully, the show sort picked itself back up after that. Not completely, but it managed to get itself back on track. Still, there are other things in the show that don’t really work and took me out of the moment when they happened, most especially the homages and nods to other movies. They stick out like a sore thumb and don’t really have a place in a story like this, at least not as blatantly as they’re used. I also felt like there were a few too many reminders of things that had happened in previous episodes to keep viewers up to date. Sometimes it was vital, because the show abandons minor characters willy nilly, often without a proper setup, and brings them back to the forefront in later episodes (which is a bit aggravating at times). So I understand the need for flashbacks in an editing sense, but the others felt unnecessary, especially as they’re used in a show that you’re watching straight through. It might be different if the show were being shown on a weekly basis, ala TV. If that were the case, I wouldn’t mind them so much.
Although Hemlock Grove is perceived as just another CW-type show, or even a sort of ‘Twin Peaks meets Twilight’ show, it still stands its own ground and is entirely watchable and enjoyable, despite its flaws. That all stems from the characters and the actors playing them. They’re very good and you want to keep following them all the way through. This isn’t a teen show containing lots of pretty people who are poor actors with little to no story worth investing in, not to mention trite dialogue. Sure the dialogue is a little unrealistic sometimes, especially coming from the mouths of teenagers, but overall, this is a well-made show that works more for an adult audience. It’s never condescending or aimed squarely at a demographic, at least not as deliberately or as cynically as a lot of other shows, which is the best reason to see it.
The Blu-ray presentation of Hemlock Grove is quite excellent. The show was shot digitally on Arri Alexa cameras, so the presentation has plenty of detail. It appears a little soft at times, but overall, both foreground and background elements have plenty to offer. Colors are quite good, although there is an overriding haze to the look of the show that carries a sickly yellow hue to it. Despite this, skin tones appear quite natural. Blacks also fare well; they’re quite deep with some great shadow delineation, and both contrast and brightness are acceptable, if not a bit too high. The show’s audio, which comes on a single English 5.1 DTS-HD track, represents itself well. It’s very well-balanced with clean, clear dialogue and both sound effects and score that never drown it out. There’s some nice ambience and some LFE to be had as well. Directionality isn’t perfect, but sounds are prioritized enough, giving one a surround experience that’s quite good. There are also subtitles in English for those who might need them.
There are a small amount of extras included, and they’re worth checking out. There’s an audio commentary on the show’s first episode with director and executive producer Eli Roth and special guest Lorenzo Izzo; a set of six featurettes (Dysfunctional in Every Way, Anatomy of a Kill, Fairytales for Adults, The Rust Beneath the Surface, The Monster Within, It Hurts So Good); and a set of trailers and TV spots.
I think there’s plenty of room for a show like Hemlock Grove on a horror fan’s shelf. It’s not a perfect show, but it has plenty of merit and is definitely worth a binge-watch. Actually, it’s almost essential that you binge-watch it. It’s only thirteen episodes that are roughly fifty minutes a piece, so it’s an easy task. Pick this one up and give it a go if you haven’t already.
- Tim Salmons