There are a few names that are synonymous with horror, especially in the field of horror literature. Bram Stoker, Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, and Mary Shelley are all people whose works are incredibly well known, and that get adapted to the big screen quite frequently. But a horror writer whose work rarely seems to make it into the movies is Edgar Allan Poe; which considering how popular his stories are, is something of an oversight. However, director Christopher Hatton corrects this with Raven’s Hollow, a film that puts Poe front and centre.
Raven’s Hollow tells the story of a group of young US Army cadets in the early 1800s, travelling across the country to reach their base, when they come across a man tied to some trees, made out like some kind of offering or sacrifice, with his body ripped apart. As the man breathes his last he utters a single word: ‘raven’. The cadets cut the body down and take it with them, hoping to find his home, so that they can return him to his loved-ones. Not too far away they discover the small community of Raven’s Hollow.
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Believing that the man may have been talking about the small town, one of the cadets, Edgar Poe (William Mosele), tries to investigate, but ends up being told that the man had simply passed through. Determined that the town must hold the answers he seeks, Edgar refuses to move on, and begins to dig a little deeper. He soon catches the attention of beautiful young woman Charlotte Ingram (Melanie Zanetti), as well as clashing with her mother, Elizabet (Kate Dickie), who simply wants the soldiers gone. As Poe learns more about the town, the story of an ancient, evil entity called the Raven emerges.
Raven’s Hollow is a really nice film to look at, and the set design, costumes, and locations are all perfect for early 1800s upstate New York. So when you learn that it was filmed in Latvia rather than the US, it feels like an even bigger achievement. The film sells you on the setting very quickly, and with relatively little effort, and much of the setting soon becomes part of the uneasy horror that pervades most of the movie as the isolated locations, the rundown, dark looking buildings, and the quiet, suspicious townspeople all help to build this atmosphere that something isn’t quite right here.
The film is largely driven by its lead character, Edgar Poe (can you guess his middle name?), who seems to be the only member of his group who actually wants to try to do the right thing. Where the others are happy to go ‘guess we’ll never know’ and leave the body in Raven’s Hollow for burial, Poe feels like there’s something more going on, and pushes to find out more. It’s this drive to get answers, to understand what’s happening, and to face the darkness that gives the entire film it’s plot, and mirrors the kind of characters that Poe would go on to write in many of his future stories. And Moseley feels like a decent Poe, due in large part because he doesn’t seem to be trying to play what people would expect from the author. He’s not being a caricature, and if the name were different you’d not be sitting there going ‘that’s clearly supposed to be Edgar Allan Poe’.
Whilst Moseley is decent enough, it’s the women of the film who steal the show, with Melanie Zanetti as the young Charlotte managing to walk a fine line between completely innocent and clearly up to no good. You’re never sure which side she’s going to land on, and her appearance in dark clothing and bonnets that hide her into the darkness of the shot, with her pale face shining through gives her the appearance of some kind of Gothic, ghost-like entity. This is contrasted well with her mother, who is much more obviously antagonistic. Her character does nothing overtly unusual or aggressive, yet you feel on edge around her as there’s this underlying sense of anger just waiting to break free beneath the surface.
The film is filled with atmosphere, and spends much of its time in the Gothic, where you’re never sure if what you’re seeing is real or not, and ghostly sights do a lot of the heavy lifting. However, there are some pretty gory moments scattered throughout the film, with one in particular that felt like it could have been lifted from the more twisted scenes of something like Event Horizon. And whilst these moments stand out they don’t overshadow the atmosphere of the film.
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And yes, because this is a tale about the early life of Edgar Allan Poe, and clearly sets up things for him such as The Raven, the film is filled with small nods to his works. There’s the obvious Raven, a character named Lenore, a man called Usher (I’m ashamed to admit that one took me a while to recognise), and even a scene with a ripped out heart that Poe can still hear beating away (almost like a telltale heart, if you will). The nods to his work aren’t the most subtle, and mostly stick to the things that are more commonly known. Perhaps this is so that the film isn’t too bogged down by references and nods to other things, but it also means those with only a passing familiarity with the author will probably be able to recognise one or two.
Raven’s Hollow is a decent period horror film that has strong production values, and manages to create an eery, unsettling atmosphere that lasts throughout. Whilst there are one or two things that don’t quite land as intended, the film is largely entertaining, and people who enjoy horror films that have something a bit different going on are probably going to find something here to entertain them.
Raven’s Hollow streams exclusively on Shudder from 22nd September.