Creating a horror television show is a tricky feat. It requires balancing the right amount of shock-and-gore along with compelling characters to keep fans clamoring for more – and Netflix’s HEMLOCK GROVE delivers on both. Helmed by horror master Eli Roth and based on the terrifying world created in Brian McGreevly’s book, HEMLOCK GROVE weaves together characters that raise the hair on the back of your neck yet draw you in deeper and deeper into a supernatural mystery story.
When a young teenage girl is found mauled to death, fear and suspicions abound as a gypsy boy (Landon Liboiron) is rumored to be a werewolf. Peter and his mother (Lili Taylor) had recently moved to Hemlock Grove in hopes of settling there after his uncle’s death; but their heritage makes them unwelcome in a community that seeks to keep its deep, dark secrets buried. Reigning over the town is the ultra rich Godfrey family, who prey on the unsuspecting populace. Everyone feels a slight unease with the Godfrey family, who despite their glamor remain aloof; not to mention they own a medical facility that is thought to house untold scientific experiments.
Just who or what is stalking their youth, and how do the Godfreys and the gypsies figure into the lurking sense of unnaturalness surrounding them, those are the mysteries that slowly unfold throughout the 13-episode horror series.
During press interviews at WonderCon in Anaheim, stars Landon Liboiron, Freya Tingley, Bill Skarsgard, and Penelope Mitchell provided some insight into murder, mystery and intrigue that layer HEMLOCK GROVE.
Your characters Peter and Christina seem to be hiding their own dark sides. Do you feel that is true?
FREYA: Our characters start off going from perfect strangers to becoming really good friends. But it’s sad the way over the summer something happened and they are no longer the friends they used to be — their relationship as friends and as kindred spirits. I think my character really looks up to Peter and sees something in him that she aspires to be like and in that there is a certain darkness that is later revealed. So, yeah, she does have a dark-side. I think every character in HEMLOCK GROVE has a dark-side.
LANDON: Definitely, every character has their secret.
Christina was pretty quick to out Peter as a werewolf, which was interesting, ’cause we were under the impression that they were friends.
FREYA: I think it was a devastating thing for her that she thinks Peter is the werewolf killer; and to find out that your best friend is a killer of young girls, that’s devastating. It was devastating for her to think that.
LANDON: Christina encompasses that whole vibe of girl-turning-into-woman and high school. So everything is so devastating for that kind of mentality and Peter is more of a free-spirit.
FREYA: Their relationship is established more towards the end, but I can’t share too much about that yet.
That werewolf transformation scene at the end of the second episode is quite something. What was it like to film something like that?
LANDON: I was terrified. I was also terrified to see it ’cause when you’re doing it, you don’t know what you’re doing. You don’t know if you’re doing it right. You don’t know if you’re looking phony doing it. Sometimes you have to just put your trust into the CGI guy and the prosthetic guys. So you just have to take the leap, I guess. I was very nervous about it, but now I’ve seen it as well and I was like, “Okay.” (Laughs) That one took a lot to do. We didn’t even film it all once.
Was there any significance to the scenes when Peter and Roman [Bill Skarsgard] share a cigarette?
LANDON: The characters didn’t just smoke because it was a cool thing to be doing; when they did smoke, it was for a reason. Like they were sharing information or to say, “oh my god, this is happening now.” I think that goes for all [Brian McGreevy’s] writing, in general. I don’t think there’s a move that hasn’t been calculated. So as the season goes on you find these little characteristics that these characters have that will lead up to their big secret.
Did you know when you first started the season whether your characters would actually make it through the season?
FREYA: I think after reading the book you feel more confident. It stays pretty true to the book.
LANDON: It was pretty laid out. You kind of knew your fate ahead of time.
What can you share about your characters?
PENELOPE: Bill plays Roman Godfrey and I play Letha Godfrey.
BILL: We plays cousins. The Godfreys are the main wealthy family that owns this town, in its own way.
PENELOPE: Like they are Carnegie family of HEMLOCK GROVE. They are the central influential figures and massive philanthropists.
BILL: It’s a small town so their wealth empowers them very significantly for these two characters; especially Roman. He’s been raised like he is the prince of this small town. He’s the heir to the throne and he comes from a lot of money and he has this really arrogant tone to him and he doesn’t care about anything really.
PENELOPE: There’s a lot of undefined boundaries as well. I think particularly at that age where you’re a teenager and you’re discovering yourself, and you have all this wealth and power at your whim, it’s kind of hard to define where one should stand. I guess we’re polar opposites in that respect.
Do you see Roman as the polar opposite of Peter?
BILL: They are definitely opposites in that they come from such different backgrounds.
BILL: But they’ve found each other in their similarities, in a way. Like they have this supernatural connection, which will explored more throughout the season. But there’s this thing you can’t put a word on which they recognize each other and they feel a connection that’s very, very deep and supernatural in its own element.
PENELOPE: I wouldn’t say they are opposites, I’d say they are quite similar.
BILL: There are a lot of similarities and that’s why they become such close friends, and it leads to a really deep and really troubled relationship throughout this season.
Does the show ever get into the dream mythology and the fact that Roman and Peter may be having the same dreams?
BILL: They’re sharing dreams. It’s really weird. I think Brian [McGreevy] would answer that best, ’cause I think they’re linked. Later on in the season, you’ll see more of Roman and Peter and the dreams. It’s very complex and very convoluted. That’s the supernatural element of it. They’re connected and they have a feeling that they are supposed to meet, but for what reason, they don’t know yet and they think that it means finding out what’s going on with these murders.
PENELOPE: I think the cool thing about it and why the writing is so clever is Brian obviously has such an enormous wealth of knowledge. So there is a lot of stuff that thematically could be intertextual references. But a lot of it also like when you’re a teenager, things do seem so profound and fatalistic. So it’s kind cool like that.
How quickly will the story reveal what the Godfreys are?
BILL: It’s not the Godfreys. You’ll find out more about Olivia, who is not a Godfrey per se. She married a Godfrey and she’s the mom of Roman and Shelley. So you’ll find out more about that. It was interesting playing Roman ’cause Roman has this ability where he can look in someone’s eyes and make them do whatever he says — and that’s all you know about him. You know that he can do that.
He’s also freaky with blood.
BILL: (Laughs) Yeah, so he has that. He as these strange urges and he likes to do a lot of bad things, but as you see more, I don’t think Roman necessarily considers himself something else.
PENELOPE: Anymore than any teenager would. As a teenager you feel so messed up and no one understands you.
BILL: It’s more than a troubled teenager. It’s more extreme than that. You’ll find out more as Roman kind of does. Throughout the season, his search for who he is and a kind of a meaning, ’cause he’s trying to find his own destiny in a way. So as he finds out what he is or what he’s supposed to be, the audience will follow him through that journey to see what he is in terms of being a supernatural creature. It will be explained. But Peter being a werewolf is explained pretty quickly.
PENELOPE: That’s what makes this show so remarkable compared to a lot of the other vampire clichéd kind of things is that we’ve got psychological exploration so that it is about the human condition rather than just being just gratuitous violence and horror.
Like when Roman whips out that razor blade in the first episode, it totally doesn’t take you where you think that scene is headed.
BILL: There’s definitely a lot more from where that came from which makes for such an incredible character development. Like this young, super-troubled kid has these weird urges and it will be explained. They’re called Upiers, which is an old Romanian term for vampire. But that’s all that we know. Roman does not know what he is. But I think it is a very interesting thing having this character have these urges of doing stuff and he doesn’t know why and he knows that they are bad, so he doesn’t do them. There’s something with blood and sex and he hasn’t figured it out yet in terms of the creature that he might or might not become — and he’s trying to fight that throughout the season as well.
What is also interesting is that he thinks he’s the hero. He never for one second thinks, “I’m the bad guy.”
PENELOPE: That’s the beauty of it. It’s never that clearly defined, is it? The hero, the anti-hero. The moralistic interplay is somewhat fun.
BILL: For sure. He’s a warrior. He’s set out to solve all these murders. He wants to be a hero so desperately. If you have a psychological problem that you’re dealing with, if you can put it into physical form — like he has this battle with the darkness inside him and he puts it in physical form by saying, “By solving these murders, that will be my redemption.” That’s why he’s so keen on solving these murders; his life kind of depends on it.
For those who dare to watch, HEMLOCK GROVE promises to take its viewers down a very dark and twisted rabbit-hole where monsters lurk in the shadows and someone is viciously killing the nubile inhabitants of Hemlock Grove, so be sure to check out the premiere of HEMLOCK GROVE on Friday, April 19th. As a special treat, Netflix will simultaneously release all 13 episodes at the same time so fans can enjoy a full feast of the entire first season — for once you get a taste of HEMLOCK GROVE, you may find yourself wanting to indulge in a bit of “binge” viewing to satiate your darker appetite.
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