‘Hemlock Grove’ Sinks its Teeth In
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Fortunately for me, the part of media pop culture that contains vampires, modern occult practices, and all things dripping in blood has soared past my social front door. I went into “Hemlock Grove,” a Netflix Original recently renewed for a second season, a bit skeptical, if not full of dread. To my surprise, the show is a contrived, yet engaging mash-up of interfamily drama and teenage angst — with a touch of the bloody occult on top like a cherry riding high atop a guilty pleasure dessert. There’s no new ground here with a mix of familiar faces (Lili Taylor, Famke Janssen) and a host of relative newcomers who perform with an ample amount of restraint.
“Hemlock Grove” opens in a mythical Pennsylvania town where it’s rich versus poor and a grizzly murder of a perky cheerleader has the town on edge. Coincidentally (wink, wink), a gypsy mother and son move into the trailer abandoned by a relative and we know they are not there to set up soup kitchens. From that setup, we dive into a dizzying array of converging plot threads, ranging from an immaculate conception to the mystery surrounding a rather freakish girl who may or may not have a heart of gold. Even among all the confusion, the acting is decent, the 50-plus minutes move by quickly and the production value is first rate.
Things sure have changed in the 50-plus years since I saw “I Was a Teenage Werewolf,” a cult film from the late ’50s that introduced the teenage boy who got all hairy and blood-thirsty during the full moon. And who could forget Michael J. Fox as the slam-dunking creature of the day and night in “Teen Wolf.” Things were simpler back then when werewolves were one-dimensional cartoon characters. With “Hemlock Grove,” the viewer needs a degree in parapsychology to follow the nuances involved with the various witches, warlocks, and flesh-eating varmints. Subtitles or perhaps a few annotated pop-up videos would go a long way for us horror newbies.
The most notable thing about this ghoulish piece of fun fluff is that, like “House of Cards” before it, Netflix is the distributor. This new breed of original, premium content is aimed to serve up more than the standard movie and TV fare to online audiences to a) reduce subscriber churn; and b) create differentiation from its competitors (Hulu, Vudu, Amazon Prime, etc.). “Hemlock Grove” knows its demographic target and drives an offbeat, dramatic stake through its heart. “Breaking Bad” or “The Sorpanos” it isn’t, but, with enough of these highly targeted originals, Netflix may have the right strategy to compete in a white-hot market.