Sometimes, you have to give ‘em points for an intriguing idea, even if the end product is a bit of a dud. Writer/director Christopher Hatton’s (Battle of the Damned) Raven’s Hollow tells a supernaturally charged, early-1800s murder-mystery story from the perspective of a young West Point cadet returning home (with four fellow cadets) from upstate New York. The five get drawn into a small community called Raven’s Hollow after finding a disemboweled man strung up like a scarecrow in a field outside town. His dying word was “Crow,” and when the group stumbles upon the village, they suspect the dead man was a local. It doesn’t help that the townsfolk act guilty as sin as they deny any knowledge of the events.
What makes the story especially interesting is that the lead character is meant to be a young Edgar Allan Poe (William Moseley), who in real life failed out of West Point and dedicated his life to writing macabre and tormented stories and poems (as well as to opium). Raven’s Hollow posits that most of Poe’s disturbing and eerie ideas sprung from the fictional events of this tale, which involve a woman named Lenore, a man named Usher, a beating heart in a box, and naturally, a raven, but not the kind you know. But before things get truly weird, they begin rather simply as the cadets take it upon themselves to spend a night or two in the village so they can investigate the murder.
Almost immediately, Poe becomes entranced by the beautiful Charlotte Ingram (Melanie Zanetti), who seems to have some knowledge of mysterious mythology surrounding the town and a creature called The Raven. While many others in the town, including Charlotte’s suspicious mother (Kate Dickie, Green Knight) and the local doctor (David Hayman), who insists on performing an autopsy on the dead man, perhaps to throw the investigators off the scent of the true killer. The only person in town who seems devoted to telling the truth is its only Black resident, Usher (Oberon K.A. Adjepong), who seems eager to get the cadets out of town for their own safety but also seems convinced there’s no escape for any of them in the end.
Raven’s Hollow is certainly competently made and even spooky in places, but too often it feels like it’s spinning its wheels in the plot department. It’s never quite clear what it is that’s tormenting this town, how much the townsfolk are encouraging or contributing to these deaths, and most importantly, why the hell Edgar Allan Poe is a character in this movie other than name recognition and the Poe easter eggs scattered throughout. It even attempts to give us a reason he became an opium addict. The acting is solid from all parties, and what there is of the liberal gore effects is mostly effective.
There comes a moment where the cadets argue about the direction the investigation should go and whether they should even stick around or leave to get proper help, and at around that same time, I was wondering if I should leave as well. The film feels like a decent short story expanded about 20 minutes past the point of interest. A closer call than I was expecting, but Raven’s Hollow is still a Nevermore from me.
The film begins streaming Thursday, September 22, on Shudder.
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