Review by Sean Boelman
Edgar Allan Poe is without a doubt one of the most acclaimed American horror authors of all time, hence why there has been so much media created about his life. Raven’s Hollow is the newest film about the author, trying to split the difference between a biopic and the type of story he would write himself and failing in the process.
The movie follows the famous poet and author as a fresh West Point cadet, as he and four other cadets discover a gruesome murder and set out to investigate in a local isolated community which may have some sinister secrets bubbling below the surface. We already got the “Poe as a detective” movie a decade ago in the unfairly maligned John Cusack film The Raven, and Raven’s Hollow isn’t an improvement.
The central mystery of the story isn’t particularly entertaining, which is where the issues with the movie begin. There isn’t a whole lot of action in the film, with a few scares spread throughout, but most of the story takes the form of interrogations and conversations with residents of this mysterious village. It quickly starts to become boring.
However, the most frustrating thing about the movie is its dialogue. Hatton’s script attempts to be poetic and needlessly dense. There are also an excessive amount of Poe references that come across more as pandering than substantial. It’s the type of movie that a middle schooler who is just discovering Poe’s work for the first time might find to be the coolest thing in the world, but for most viewers, it will simply be frustrating.
Although this is clearly an independent film that doesn’t have a considerable budget, it does a decent enough job with its periodization. The costuming and sets look much better than one would expect. Many indie period pieces have costumes that look like they are straight out of a high school theater production, but this movie does a good enough job of transporting the audience back to 19th century New England.
That said, Hatton struggles to create an atmosphere and scares that are sufficiently unsettling. Poe’s style is certainly very gothic and macabre, but this film goes too overboard with it in a way that is aesthetically unappealing. Rather than being dark and brooding, the movie primarily just feels gray and bland.
Some of the imagery in the film can be quite striking, but the CGI suffers from the low budget. The opening scene of the movie is a good indicator of what the rest of the film offers: a series of images that don’t quite go together and aren’t exactly good, but are just well-done enough not to be forgettable.
Raven’s Hollow struggles from figuring out whether it’s for casual audiences or those who already appreciate Poe’s work, and as a result, it ends up being largely unsatisfying. Somehow, it feels like it is both pandering to Poe fans and embarrassingly simplistic in its understanding of the writer’s work, making it worth skipping.
Raven’s Hollow streams on Shudder beginning September 22.