Roman Godrey, the wealthy, weird teen played by Bill Skarsgard on "Hemlock Grove" (April 19 on Netflix; 1.5 stars out of 4), tokes the marijuana he sells to fellow high school students. That might be the key to understanding the 13-episode horror mashup.
The online streaming service's latest foray into original programming after "House of Cards," "Hemlock Grove" feels a little like a high gone awry. Set in a Pennsylvania town that is as dangerous as it is charming—aren't they all like that, "Twin Peaks" fans?—the series has werewolves, possible vampires, cheerleaders, a teen who believes an angel got her pregnant, a mad scientist and, not last or least, a Hulk of a girl with a mangled face and a bulging, giant ball in place of one of her eyes.
All these crazy folks are haphazardly thrown together in what seems to be an attempt to duplicate the hypnotic bizarroland of FX's "American Horror Story" But much of the writing here is dreadful; scenes go nowhere while thinly developed characters pop in and out of the action—although there is little action early on. Adapted by 28-year-old Brian McGreevy from his novel, and co-executive produced by horror specialist Eli Roth (who directed the first episode), it is mostly a rambling, nonsensical mess.
"There's just so much more happening than what you see," teen Brooke Bluebell says in one of those aimless scenes. (Unless it's to tell viewers they're not watching closely enough?) Not long after, a monster snacks on poor Brooke's lower torso and the town's police stumble into action.
Suspicion falls on Peter Rumancek (Landon Liboiron), a young man who has just moved into his dead uncle's rundown trailer with his mom, Lynda (Lili Taylor). Some of the townspeople seem more put off by Peter's Roma ethnicity--they call him a "Gypsy"--than by the fact he might be a werewolf.
Despite their loner tendencies and opposite fortunes, Peter and Roman become allies if not friends. Roman, by the way, could be a vampire and is part of the Godfrey family, owners of a scary biotech company who lord over Hemlock Grove as if it's their birthright. Among his surviving family members are his menacing mother, Olivia (Famke Janssen), freakishly tall sister, Shelley (Nicole Boivin), and therapist uncle, Norman (Dougray Scott).
Liboiron, annoying as a teen in Fox's short-lived "Terra Nova," is anything but here, making Peter a likable outcast who is low on trust and loaded with sarcasm. Skarsgard (brother of "True Blood" star Alexander and "Vikings" star Gustav) doesn't fare as well, although he's not as campy as Scott is. Janssen has the role with the most camp potential, but reins it in while remaining creepy.
Liboiron's jaw-dropping wolf transformation in Episode 2 (not a spoiler; watch below) has me intrigued enough to stick around, but that good will can last only so long. Come to think of it, "Hemlock Grove" could be perfect for Netflix binge-viewing; racing through the episodes quickly might help you forget that nothing makes much sense.
Or you can light up a joint and it won't really matter.
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