Hemlock Grove: A Wanker’s Literary Reaction

by thethreepennyguignol

Yup, I’m combining blog series. Deal with it. Look, in theory I LOVE Eli Roth. To be honest, I find him as a person tremendously interesting- he’s spent decades immersed passionately in the horror genre, getting dirt under his nails and blood on his shoes in the name of making better horror movies. Which would be brilliant if the horror movies he made were actually any good. I feel horrible saying this because he’s clearly deeply knowledgeable and passionate about a genre that I consider the greatest one out there, but his films straddle an awkward boundary of wanting to pay homage to the classics while still making an original story with Roth’s stamp all over it. It seems to be a case of having a director so totally surrounded by a certain type of film that he, subconsciously or consciously, peppers his films with far too many genre clichés to truly separate his own work from that of his predecessors. Add to that the images of sexualised dead bodies in Hostel- which I find utterly, unforgivably grim no matter the gender or situation-and you’ve got a man who I love almost entirely outside of his films. But not, perhaps, outside of his TV shows. I’m taking a look at his Netflix series Hemlock Grove for the first time, and this blog post will serve to document my honest reaction accordingly. I’m also drinking every time I see nipples, a murder, or nipples AND a murder in the same scene.

Seriously though, nipples AND blood in the opening scene.

Seriously though, nipples AND blood in the opening scene.

Look, I’ll be honest: this isn’t a GOOD show. Not by a stretch, But that doesn’t mean that it’s not buggeringly good fun. Imagine if Twilight had actually had a sense of humour and a bit of self-awareness; this is what you’d be looking at. With Peter Rumaneck, troubled Romany He’s-DEFINITELY-Not-A-Werewolf who moves to the town of Hemlock Grove with his mother, swaggering about with the kind of easy, sexy charm that the aforementioned young adult series could have done with in spades. Though he’s placed up against an interminably awful love interest-who, within moments on appearing on screen, announces “I’M A NOVELIST”, a move which simultaneously makes me want to punch myself in the face and reminds me that I have that planning for my book to do- he manages to sparkle on-screen in an entirely non-Edward like way. Imagine if Twilight was told from Edward’s point of view- some weird girl turns up and starts obsessing over him, and he’s just trying to get on with his life- and you’ve got the gist and thrust of this character. The script also has great fun with his settling into the discomforting elements of the town, such as when he’s apparently the only one to notice a shuffling, groaning woman with light pouring out of her face wandering down the school corridor as lights flicker ominously above.

What I like most about the series, though, is the Godfreys. An old-money family with some dark secrets and a seriously nice house, we meet the fabulous Famke Jamsen early on as the matriarch of the tribe, a brilliantly awful cow who brings just the right level of pissed-off repression to the role. Then you’ve got Roman, the seventeen-year-old tearaway, a man so beautiful that I don’t think I’m bisexual any more. Seriously, the first time he came on-screen-

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– my jaw actually fell off. A bit of research reveals that he’s Bill Skarsgard, marking the third series that’s secretly dominated by an incandescent performance from that family (Alexander Skarsgard in True Blood, Gustaf Skarsgard in Vikings, Bill Skasgard in This Show Which I Will Only Remember Because He’s Super Fucking Hot). It helps, too, that they’ve given him plenty of fun to have with the role, hissing “Do the fields need tiiiiilled?” when he’s woken up too early for his liking. He’s one of those people for whom serious material would be too easy, so they’ve handed him a cornucopia of weirdness and fun to the already tongue-in-cheek show.

The direction- courtesy of Eli Roth, at least in the first episode- is occasionally inspired (such as the found footage-y sequence of a young girl fleeing from an unknown monster) but sensibly takes a back seat to scene-setting and exploring the fabulous possibilities the series’ hometown has to offer. The centrepiece direction sequence for the first episode is undoubtedly a flashback to Roman’s childhood, which is filmed like a B-movie-right down to Famke Jansen’s hand languidly dangling a glass of wine over the edge of a seat-and proves that Eli Roth’s admirable horror knowledge can work beautifully if it’s deployed in the right way.

Based on this first episode, I will be watching the rest of the series. It’s not the best thing on TV in a technical sense, but it’s certainly got it’s charm. The writing is solid and brought to life by some enthusiastic performances from the cast, and everyone seems to be going at the campier elements hell for leather. If American Horror Story ever needed a campier, more teen-friendly spin-off then this is it. That said, I am now pretty drunk so don’t take my word for anything.