Shudder Streaming: Raven's Hollow (2022) - Reviewed

Images courtesy Shudder

Most horror fans know that Edgar Allan Poe left behind an impressive collection of literature that has inspired writers for generations to come.  Less of them, however, know that prior to his success as a writer, Poe was a cadet at West Point.  Despite initially excelling there, he grew to hate it so much that he intentionally sabotaged himself to the point of expulsion.  He went on to have far greater success as a writer than a cadet, and now, he’s become the subject of a film loosely based on his time in the U.S. Army.  Christopher Hatton’s Raven’s Hollow shows audiences a more heroic version of Poe’s brief stint as a cadet, drenched with a thick coat of gothic horror to match the mystery and macabre of his most famous poems and short stories.

In this heavily fictionalized depiction of Poe’s youth, Edgar (William Moseley) and four other cadets come across a gory discovery during their travels outside the town of Raven’s Hollow.  A disemboweled man is hung like a scarecrow in a field, and before dying, he utters the word “raven” when Edgar asks him who is responsible for this mutilation.  Perplexed, the cadets decide to bring the corpse to the closest town in hopes of finding his family to give him a proper burial.  The situation becomes far more perplexing when they begin to meet the mysterious inhabitants of Raven’s Hollow and cadets start showing up dead during their stay in the town.  Edgar begins to suspect that the murders have an origin tied to the townspeople, and he works to solve the mystery before he also ends up dead.

Raven’s Hollow is a film that successfully immerses the audience in its dark atmosphere.  The opening scenes waste no time in showing people a glimpse of horrors to come, and unlike the underwhelming real-life tale of Poe’s time in the army, this one is rich with haunting imagery and creative dismemberments to keep audiences engaged.  The cinematography is especially successful at setting the right mood:  most shots are devoid of any warmth, with shadows engulfing every scene to the point where it almost feels like a cool-tinted black and white film at times.  This sets the right tone for the story and brings a sense of foreboding to the cadet’s mission and their time in the strange town.

While the inhabitants of this town are equally strange and have characterization galore (kudos to Oberon K.A. Adjepong in particular for his nuanced portrayal of Usher), most of Edgar’s cadets are exchangeable and have such a similar look that it’s hard to set them apart sometimes.  When they start dying off in gruesome ways, the viewer consequently doesn’t care much about their demise.  Had the script and actors done a better job at making each cadet a distinct person, their deaths would have had the gravity they needed to evoke a sense of dread in the audience about the violent menace plaguing Raven’s Hollow. 

Poe fans will notice many nods to his literary work scattered throughout the story, the most obvious being the film’s namesake and Poe’s most famous poem: “The Raven.”  While there is some ambiguity throughout the film about whether or not some sort of actual raven is responsible for the killings escalating around town, the theme of the raven is omnipresent and important.  While some of the Poe references might evoke some eye rolls in those who don’t appreciate heavy-handed “winks,” they manage to create a fictitious “origin story” for some of his tales, which has a fun quality about it.

While the film’s climax and conclusion are riddled with some subpar CG, awkward dialogue, and overall messiness, Raven’s Hollow has some good practical gore effects otherwise and will be entertaining for those who appreciated films like Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow.  Rich in gloomy 19th century presence but light on substance, it will still check the boxes for many supernatural horror lovers — even if it isn’t something Poe would ever necessarily write himself.  

-Andrea Riley