For an actor, mastering Edgar Allan Poe is no easy feat. While the 2012 whodunnit The Raven satisfied my dweeby little Poe-loving heart, John Cusack’s physicality as the somber, alcohol-loving horror writer didn’t quite hit, but everything else did (including Cusack’s cynically smug attitude). In Raven’s Hollow, I’m afraid, it’s quite the reverse. Narnia alum William Moseley nails Poe’s tortured, sunken eyes, his disheveled hair, his pallid features, and his ghostly expressions, but the story and characters around him create haphazard and unstable support. It appears, fellow Poe fans, that we’ll have to keep waiting for our perfect flick.
Raven’s Hollow follows a young Edgar Poe as a cadet at West Point, an academy from which he was famously kicked out. Set in an autumnal wood shrouded in fog, Poe, along with his fellow cadets, stumbles upon a young man crucified to a tree with his innards spilling down his tattered shirt. Alarmed at the gruesome display, Poe tries to comfort him in his last moments. The dying can only utter one word: “Raven.”
Despite opposition from his comrades, Poe insists the deceased deserves a proper burial, and they take the corpse with them on horseback. The cadets arrive at the eerie village of Raven’s Hollow, where they encounter the townspeople, headed by innkeeper Elizabet Ingram (Kate Dickie, who conjures the eeriness she displayed in The Witch) and her daughter, Charlotte (Melanie Zanetti).
At first, the villagers refuse the body and deny that it’s theirs, but offer Poe and his cadets a place to stay for the night. They accept, but as the night goes on, the cadets are gorily picked off one by one by an enigmatic being that the villagers refer to as The Raven. Poe is left desperate for answers about not only the whereabouts of his friends but the ghastly secrets hidden deep within the veins of Raven’s Hollow.
I desperately wanted to love this flick; the stage was set for success. Moseley—whom I’ve enjoyed watching since 10-year-old me sat in the theater and saw him defeat The White Witch—has the gentle chaos of the tragic writer with the appearance to boot. He was an unlikely choice to portray Poe but pleasantly surprised me. The masterful trailer, the setting of the ghostly village, the creepy townspeople, and the gritty cinematography all led me to believe this would be an eerie and effective Shudder original. Unfortunately, the brilliant chaos portrayed by Moseley seemed to bleed into the script and become warped; the story was all over the place, with so many twists and turns that it became puzzling. The story lost its path and logic, and in its wake, scrambled to explain who the true villain was, and how they became that way.
Zanetti’s exaggerated period acting, in contrast to the effortless creepiness that Dickie brings to every role (whether she’s Aunt Lysa in Game of Thrones or Katherine in The Witch), soured this one for me. To be devil’s advocate here, Zanetti clearly wasn’t given much to work with, but the delivery was sour and over-the-top—as if she wanted to personify a Poe poem rather than play his love interest.
Raven’s Hollow has the bones of a fantastically creepy period piece that pays tribute to one of America’s greatest horror writers, but unconfident writing and inordinate acting cause it to crumble.
dir. Christopher Hatton
Raven’s Hollow streams exclusively on Shudder on September 22.
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