At the beginning of this month, movie download service Netflix let its contract with Starz expire. The end result was the loss of almost 2,000 films from the Warner Bros., MGM and Universal libraries. This occurred largely because Warner Archive wants to set up its own instant download service. Soon you’ll be able to pay every studio in Hollywood $10 a month to access films out of their library—and only their library. But the other reason for the loss is that Netflix figures nobody wants to watch a bunch of old movies anyway, so who cares? The kids today are only interested in new content. So Netflix is changing its plan to serve as an alternative to video stores (which no longer exist anyway) into something new: serving as an alternative to HBO and Showtime.
Netflix is doing this by churning out the original series. By spending a few more bucks than a lot of networks can afford to shell out and by making an entire season’s worth of episodes available all at once, Netflix is hoping to build a better television network. And if they can find the right must-watch series, it might work.
Among Netflix’s initial offerings is the horror mystery “Hemlock Grove.” It’s produced by Cabin Fever/Hostel auteur Eli Roth and is based on the book series by Brian McGreevy. The show basically combines the supernatural free-for-all that is “True Blood” with the eerie small-town mystery of “Twin Peaks.” The result is a moderately engaging teenage sex-and-blood-soaked series that should attract the attentions of regular WB network viewers looking for something a little harder than “Supernatural” and “One Tree Hill.”
Everything unfolds in the tiny Pennsylvania town of Hemlock Grove. The main character in this ensemble is Peter Rumancek (Landon Liboiron from “Degrassi: The Next Generation” and “Terra Nova”). Since he’s mysterious, scruffy, prone to wearing plaid shirts and of decidedly “gypsy” descent, no points will be awarded for guessing what Peter really is. He picks a bad time to move to town with his mom (Lili Taylor), however. Seems a high school cheerleader has just been brutally eviscerated. Rounding out the list of weirdo suspects is mysterious, non-scruffy high school hunk Roman Godfrey (Bill Skarsgård, son of Stellan, brother of Alexander) and Roman’s screwed-up, superrich family (including Famke Janssen and Dougray Scott).
Poky and full of atmosphere, it takes quite a while for this grisly murder mystery to bust out the werewolves, vampires, angels, demons and other supernatural whatchamadoodles that inhabit its titular town. (There’s even a cabal of mad scientists for good measure). Some clunky flashbacks and a lot of ham-handed symbolism also weigh down the proceedings. The dialogue is occasionally overwritten, and young Mr. Skarsgård seems to be channeling James Spader’s rich jerk in Pretty in Pink most of the time. Stick with it, though, and things get appropriately ridiculous.
It may not be the HBO-killer Netflix is hoping for. But “Hemlock Grove” is the kind of show that will definitely find an audience—most likely the ones who just outgrew Twilight.