Before there was H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King, there was Edgar Allan Poe. Poe’s poetry and short stories hugely influenced the horror genre. Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Black Cat, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Masque of the Red Death, and Legeia all found their way into Hollywood adaptations. Roger Corman and Vincent Price made careers out of adapting Poe’s works. In fact, Poe himself has been the subject of movies loosely based on a combination of his life and story. John Cusack played the author in the 2012 thriller, The Raven, to a middling response. Now Shudder has released the British horror-mystery Raven’s Hollow that once again positions the author as the subject of his most famous work.
In 1830s upstate New York, a young West Point military cadet, Edgar Allan Poe, and his companions stumble on a dying man, disemboweled and tied to a wooden rack. With his last breath, the man says two words – ‘The Raven”. When Poe decides the cadets must return the dead man to his home, they stumble on a remote village, Raven’s Hollow. Though its residents claim they’ve never seen the dead man, Poe suspects they’re lying. And when one his disappears from the village in the middle of the night, Poe believes the townsfolk may be hiding an even deadlier secret.
Raven’s Hollow Struggles to Maintain Its Well-Crafted Atmosphere From Start to Finish
Things start off with such promise. In its prologue, Raven’s Hollow conjures up some nightmare atmosphere that immediately sets a tone. Writer and director Christopher Hatton also employs some creative visuals that feel appropriately unsettling. From that point onward, Hatton maintains a strong grasp on that uneasy feeling getting an assist from Robert Ellis-Geiger’s score. In its first half, Raven’s Hollow features a handful of disturbing scenes – including the morbid discover of its disemboweled victim that sets the story in motion – which promise at an increasingly tense story. Hatton and his co-writer Chuck Reeves also craft a mystery around its mysterious town and hidden monster to keep audiences engaged during the thriller’s slower moments. In addition, Hatton wisely keeps his monster in the background for the movie’s first half, thus keeping the modest budget in check.
From that point onward, Hatton maintains a strong grasp on that uneasy feeling getting an assist from Robert Ellis-Geiger’s score.
And for roughly 30 or 40 minutes, Raven’s Hollow remains an engaging and uneasy thriller. But the story doesn’t so much unravel as it grinds itself to a halt. There’s nearly an hour and 40 minutes here and there just isn’t story to keep up the atmosphere and earlier established tension. Follow its strong start, the story feels like it limps to the finish line. To some extent the problem lies in the decision to more prominently feature its shapeshifter monster. Simply put, Raven’s Hollow doesn’t have the budget to match the filmmaker’s ambitions. The CGI is middling and, as a result, some of the thriller’s atmosphere is lost. Moreover, Hatton and Reeves fail to really flesh out its monster, or its intentions, which replaces scares with ambiguity.
Raven’s Hollow …
Not surprisingly, the British cast is uniformly excellent and befitting of the thriller’s period piece setting. Bringing a real person to life in a clearly fictional setting surely presents challenges. And William Moseley (Friend Request, Chronicles of Narnia) is following on the heels of John Cusack’s portrayal of the titular author. But it helps that Edgar Allan Poe is from another era thereby removing concerns about how well a particular actor captures their idiosyncrasies. Moseley also excels and stands out as one of the stronger aspects of Raven’s Hollow. Unfortunately, Raven’s Hollow fails Moseley’s performance – the thriller never really explores uses the fictional narrative to explore Poe’s psyche.
Besides audiences are likely to be immediately more invested in Edgar Allan Poe in a movie where it’s central premise is a creative riff on the origins of his most famous work.
All of the supporting cast capably backs up Moseley. None of his fellow cadets stand out much though it’s no fault of the actors. Hatton and Reeves’ screenplay gives them little to do aside from looking frustrated with Poe. Besides audiences are likely to be immediately more invested in Edgar Allan Poe in a movie where it’s central premise is a creative riff on the origins of his most famous work. Both Katie Dickie (The Green Knight, Prometheus) and Melanie Zanetti are also noteworthy. If there’s any complaint it’s not with Zanetti’s performance. Her character – and the relationship to Poe and the story itself – bares some passing resemblance to Christina Ricci’s character in Sleepy Hollow.
Raven’s Hollow Can’t Sustain Its Premise
After a promising introductory scene, Raven’s Hollow slowly loses its grip on the material before limping across the finish line. Its premise is intriguing and the production values, cinematography, and score are always atmospheric. Without a doubt, Raven’s Hollow feels like a haunting period piece horror movie. But it also long overstays its welcome as the story thins out and the premise outstretches what Hatton can deliver on screen. Even with 20 minutes or so cut out, however, Hatton and Reeves’ story doesn’t have anywhere to go. The poorly defined ‘raven’ also adversely impacts the final act and the movie’s overall memorability.