Movies: Raven’s Hollow (2022)

In the lead-up to Halloween, I was looking for something classic, stately, and autumnal that I hadn’t seen before, and a 2022 film that Shudder recently added, titled Raven’s Hollow, seemed to promise the kind of vibe I was seeking. Directed by Christopher Hatton (who also helmed 2013’s Battle of the Damned with Dolph Lundgren), the movie is a gloomy period piece positing a fanciful and horrific event in the life of a relatively young Edgar Allan Poe, which explained why he wrote about such morbid subjects later on. The film definitely provided some spooky fall vibes and some cool gore, though overall I found it fell right in the middle of the spectrum for me; a solid five or six, in other words.

It’s easy to see why it was called Raven’s Hollow, not only because (duh) Edgar Allan Poe, but also due to the folkloric angle that recalls Washington Irving’s famed New England horror tale “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” The cinematography, set design, and color palette here somewhat recalls Tim Burton’s 1999 adaptation, in fact, though the hues in Raven’s Hollow are much more subdued.

At the beginning of the story, it’s 1830, and Poe (played by William Moseley, who was Peter in the Chronicles of Narnia movies) is on a training exercise with several of his fellow West Point cadets in upstate New York. By chance, they happen upon a grisly scene: a tree-like structure that resembles a bird, on which a man is bound in a sort of crucifixion pose. Worse than that, the man has been disemboweled, and still clings to life even though his intestines are literally hanging out. Before he dies, he speaks a single word: “raven.”

Most of the cadets don’t want to get involved with whatever this grotesque business might be, but Poe is adamant that they must take the man to the nearest village and find out not only who he is, but who exactly killed him and why. In the course of this endeavor, the men find a small settlement called Raven’s Hollow, and when they arrive, a funeral is taking place. Poe asks if anyone knows who the dead man is, but everyone in the town denies knowing him. It’s pretty clear, though, that they’re hiding something, and Poe takes it upon himself to try to figure out what that is.

He and the other men check into the village’s only inn, and Poe starts making eyes at a charming young woman named Charlotte (Melanie Zanetti), who is forthright and morbidly curious, but acts almost as suspiciously as everyone else in Raven’s Hollow. Before the cadets retire for their first night in town, a stable hand named Usher (Oberon K.A. Adjepong) tells them they had better get gone if they know what’s good for them, because the village is haunted by some kind of creature that everyone just refers to as The Raven. The men, of course, scoff at this supernatural nonsense…that is, until one of their number mysteriously disappears in the night, leaving only a severed hand to remember him by.

After that, Poe is on the case, foreshadowing the detective fiction genre that the real author would essentially invent. Operating under the assumption that a very human killer is responsible for the deaths and disappearances, Poe attempts to get to the bottom of the mounting series of crimes, all the while being stymied by the cagey villagers, who obviously know a great deal more about what’s going on than they’re willing to tell.

Much like Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, this film is a bleak, moody historical horror that mixes a detective story with the supernatural; unlike Sleepy Hollow, though, there isn’t a whiff of humor to be found. There also isn’t a lot of mystery to unravel for the viewer, as we’re pretty sure from the very beginning that The Raven is a real monster of some kind, but it’s still interesting to watch the story play out, though I will admit that I found the lore surrounding the creature to be a tad convoluted and difficult to parse once it was all laid out.

The CGI on the creature and in a few other scenes is also not the best, though it’s serviceable enough for the story, and is wisely kept to a minimum. There’s also a great deal of gore, most of which looked awesomely gooey and practical, and one particular scene of a completely torn-apart body strewn all over the altar of the village church was a definite disgusting highlight.

For the most part, the acting was good; William Moseley acquitted himself well as Edgar Allan Poe, and some of the more veteran actors—such as Kate Dickie as Charlotte’s mother Elizabet—were great, though a few of the actors in the more minor roles came off a bit stagy.

All in all, this was a decent period horror if you’re looking for that harvest-time-in-New-England ambience, or if you’re really into Edgar Allan Poe and want to see a serious supernatural tale that attempts to explain the author’s later macabre proclivities. Some of the Poe references seemed a little shoehorned in (the stable hand being named Usher, for example, and a flashback featuring a girl named Lenore), but it was still an amusing diversion to try to pick out all the Poe Easter eggs that had been woven into the story. Not the best Poe-as-a-fictional-character movie I’ve seen, but definitely worth a watch if gory gothic Victorian is your particular jam.

Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends.

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