Christopher Hatton’s Raven’s Hollow is an ode to Edgar Allan Poe in the form of a supernatural—read: fictional—biography. Poe’s morbid prose, drenched in gallows moods and gothic depression, influence his pre-authorship origin as conceptualized by Hatton and co-writer Chuck Reeves. It’s a clever marriage of homage and originality as Poe’s pen-to-paper evils become monsters of colonial territories. Raven’s Hollow is drenched in 1800s allure as cursed mythology overtakes eastern American realism. Still, you’ve likely imagined far gnarlier nightmares based on Poe’s works than what’s delivered by these lackluster visual effects. To quoth Donato? Quite a bore.
We meet Poe (William Moseley) as a West Point cadet on a routine training exercise in upstate New York. He and four other soldiers happen upon a mauled body fastened to a crossed rack device. In seeking the lost soul’s homestead for proper burial, Poe’s squad discovers the sparsely inhabited community of Raven’s Hollow. Elders Dr. Garrett (David Hayman) and innkeeper Elizabet Ingram (Kate Dickie) allow Poe’s party to stay the night with proper hospitality, but it’s not long before one of their visitors goes missing. A man named Usher (Oberon K.A. Adjepong) warns the military guests to vacate Raven’s Hollow and never look back, lest they encounter what’s described as a raven-like entity that doesn’t take kindly to outsiders.
Raven’s Hollow acts as inspiration for Poe’s eventual celebrity as a horror-fiction writer, subjecting the innocent cadet to unspeakable demonic confrontations. The evocation of thick shadows and psychological taunts in Poe’s “The Raven” inspires Hatton’s candlelight haunts and his raven monstrosity’s drawn, midnight-black figure. Poe’s companions often question his desire to stay behind, wanting to ensure Elizabet’s daughter Charlotte (Melanie Zanetti) stays safe, yet heroism and curiosity win outright. Hatton and Reeves struggle to sustain a narrative that demands its characters remain in peril despite obvious red flags (and horses that can apparently just untie ropes), but dedicate themselves to the sorrowful landscape that creates a beguiling fogginess around Raven’s Hollow.
That said, it’s an odd character study to watch soldier boy “Edgar Poe” evolve into the quill-wielding “Edgar Allan Poe” around so much imminent terror. His monologues become more poetic as the intensity heightens, while Raven’s Hollow’s aviary overlord reveals its wretched backstory. Veteran genre presences like Dickie and Hayman chew scenery like rawhide, while the younger performers highlight their stage play tendencies to oversell or loudly emphasize. Raven’s Hollow is like countless other 1800s horror tales with puritan clothing and creaky wooden manors, which is accomplished but too singularly familiar. The inclusion of Poe isn’t of the wordsmith we know—sans bushy mustache—which makes the greyscale murkiness that colors the drab environments feel copy-pasted from elsewhere.
What’s more disappointing is the horror. There are impalement deaths, transformations from human to spirit forms and scars that insinuate the raven’s merciless reign, but the camera feels unnatural capturing these moments. Outside the opening victim’s gutted stomach wound, there’s not much graveyard excitement. Hatton’s inky J-horror(ish) raven-maiden design fails in its noticeably computerized presentation, much like odd shots of soldiers hovering like they’re dangling on invisible wires. Costumes, production design and behavioral literacy envelop us, while moments of enormous impact—unsightly aberrations of immorality—cannot equal the textually dense successes elsewhere.
As a result, Raven’s Hollow falls somewhere between “functional” and “forgettable.” It’s not very horrifying, but extends a curiously eye-catching invitation. Poe isn’t truly himself until the film’s climax, yet Poe fans might delight in the experience’s respectful connectivity. As a fictitious backstory to a phenomenally talented horror icon, it’s certainly better than expected—but that measurement will vary per viewer. Raven’s Hollow dresses the antique part, speaks the olden language and conjures light tension…until digital blood splatter and animated raven beasts sully the moment. “Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality,” and the same goes for movies like Raven’s Hollow that lack exquisite horror.
Director: Christopher Hatton
Writer: Christopher Hatton, Chuck Reeves
Starring: William Moseley, Melanie Zanettie, Kate Dickie, David Hayman, Callum Woodhouse
Release Date: September 22, 2022 (Shudder)
Matt Donato is a Los Angeles-based film critic currently published on SlashFilm, Fangoria, Bloody Disgusting, and anywhere else he’s allowed to spread the gospel of Demon Wind. He is also a member of the Hollywood Critics Association. Definitely don’t feed him after midnight.