A thriller of modest budget and modest thrills, “Raven’s Hollow” gets by on funereal gloom and sheer ambition.
An American Gothic horror story filmed in Latvia, it’s a period piece about Edgar Allan Poe’s West Point years. Grounded in fantasy and bathed in realistic detail, the latest from writer-director Christopher Hatton takes him from C-movie actioners (“Battle of the Damned”) into a solid if emotionally flat B-movie/genre film.
Poe, played by “Chronicles of Narnia” alumnus William Moseley, and four other cadets from the United States Military Academy in West Point are out in farm country in the late 1820s when they come upon a disemboweled man hung up like a scarecrow.
All of them underreact to this shocking sight. But Poe’s morbid curiosity and his compassion veto the “Let’s just ride on” consensus. “We’re honor bound” to cut him down and find his kin, the already-published poet declares.
The dying man’s whispered word “raven” sends them to a most European looking settlement — half-empty– called Raven’s Hollow. That’s where Poe’s search for clues — remember, he wrote the first detective story in English — leads to suspects natural and supernatural.
Who killed this man? And what killed our comrade, as the first of the cadets is picked off?
“The Devil?” “The RAVEN!”
The locals, in an odd mix of accents, assure the soldiers “You don’t need to worry about it” and urge them to just mosey along, until one of them is killed. The soldiers aren’t buying this “raven” nonsense.
“Did the bird peck him to death?”
It’s just that they’re not policemen or anything, not knowing “how to begin” to investigate something as strange and deadly as this.
“We have ALREADY begun,” Poe declares. “If you’d pause to consider, we HAVE the answers!”
Moseley makes an inquisitive, unflappable Poe, not immune to the lure of laudanum (opium) or the poetry and prose possibilities all around him. Here’s mention of a “Lenore,” there’s an Usher (Oberon K.A. Adjepong).
And then there’s the “spirit” snatching and gutting folks left and right forevermore, The Raven.
Moseley lacks the spark, mania and lunacy that John Cusack brought to his late-life Poe in “The Raven.” The supporting cast is a mixed bag of colorful character players like Kate Dickie and David Hayman, and mostly colorless place-holders in other roles.
The effects aren’t bad, although one transformation moment plays as a lot funnier than was intended.
But even though it never lets us forget the lack of star power and modest budget, even if it never makes the leap to “compelling,” “Raven’s Hollow” is never less than an interesting effort and a good-looking argument that given the money, Hatton could show us something, with the right script.
Rating: unrated, bloody violence
Cast: William Moseley, Kate Dickey, Melanie Zanetti, Callum Woodhouse, David Hayman, Oberon K.A. Adjepong, Callum McGowan and Mathis Landwehr.
Credits: Scripted and directed by Christopher Hatton. A Shudder release.
Running time: 1:38