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Raven’s Hollow is the Folk Horror Edgar Allan Poe Origin Story You Don’t Exactly Need
But might enjoy watching anyway.
A horror movie about the young Edgar Allan Poe sounds like a ridiculous idea. You might think to yourself, this can’t possibly work.
And you would be right. Christopher Hatton’s Raven’s Hollow, which stars William Moseley as an improbably dashing cadet Edgar Allen Poe, is a preposterous, self-parodic exercise in folk horror as literary criticism, or maybe vice versa, who can tell. Clichés, ominous music, incoherent plot, silly special effects, and dunderheaded references to Poe’s work are dumped indiscriminately into a New England forest, where they try gamely, if unconvincingly, to fester and giggle.
If that sounds so bad it might be good—well, yeah. Kind of.
No, That Was Not the Inspiration for the Raven. Good Grief.
The plot clanks and grunts and starts up with cadet Poe and four of his companions out doing a field test when they discover a mutilated body tied to a odd wooden contraption. The man is still, alive, though only barely. He is able to utter one word when Poe asks who did this to him: “Raven.”
Poe’s friends suggest just burying the body or leaving it where it is, but Poe is a heroic detective type, and insists on taking it with them to try to find the murderer. They ride off and soon come to the town of Raven’s Hollow where (BIG red flag) everyone wears black.
The dour townspeople tell the cadets they’ve never seen the dead man, though they seem to be fairly obviously lying. Also, the inkeeper’s daughter, Charlotte Ingram (Melanie Zanetti) is cute. So Poe insists that the cadets stay the night, despite warnings from the town’s odd-job man, Usher (Oberon K.A. Adjepong), who urges them to flee.
As you’ve probably guessed, the decision to stay in Raven’s Hollow is a poor one. There is more murder. There are more cryptic warnings. There are evil twin doubles. There’s a lot of gore and a wolf reaction shot or two. There’s a still-beating heart that has escaped its rib-cage. There is a CGI Raven monster thing that the director lets you see a good bit more clearly than is really wise if the goal is to frighten you.
No, That’s Not How Poe Became Addicted to Opium. Come On.
The march through gothic tropes is so unwinkingly earnest it’s hard not to be amused. But the thing that really turns this from a train wreck into a train wreck worth watching is the suggestion that any of this has anything to do with the biographical Edgar Allan Poe.
The real Edgar Allan Poe was not a gallant young Hollywood adventurer with a bold heart and a steely glance. On the contrary, by the time Poe wandered into West Point, he was already an inveterate gambler and a weirdo nerdy poet genius.
Moseley’s portrayal is completely bog-standard Hollywood leading man, when it should be something more like bog-standard impulsive disreputable scruffy artist. The idea that Poe would behave like a young cop in a police procedural—determined to get to the bottom of this awful murder, by God!—is even funnier if you’ve read his actual detective stories. Which are not, in fact, about a rage for the restoration of virtuous law and morality.
The conceit is that Poe was a virtuous young army officer, but then he encountered a supernatural raven-thing, fell in hopeless love with some suspect spectral villager, saw a bunch of death, chugged opium, and transformed into the hollow-eyed scribbler of gothic weird fiction we know.
The film, in short doubles as the absolute worst writing advice ever propounded at feature length. Want to be a great writer? Don’t bother with extensive reading, or with practice. Just find an eldritch abomination to murder a bunch of people near you! Also, experience a terrifying doomed love. While taking opium. Really, you’ll start spouting poetry right away just like the once boring and pragmatic, but suddenly waxy-skinned, sweaty, and inspired Edgar does.
Poe was an artist of excess in many respects, but he deployed that excess with great control and care. His poetry was perhaps the most metrically meticulous verse ever crafted and his stories were gleefully precise in their ghoulishness. The poem, “The Raven,” is famous because of the contrast between its outsized emotional content and its incredibly controlled form. It’s a sustained exercise in lyrical suffocation, brilliant in its delicate remorselessness.
Raven’s Hollow is less well crafted, to put it mildly. It takes Poe’s legacy and chucks it into a hacky mess of a movie. The desecration is a lot more profound than the light devil worship in Raven’s Hollow.
But (as Poe was aware) desecration can be fun. I can’t promise that this Raven’s Hollow will become a cult classic. But I can say that, for this fan of Poe and B-horror movies, the mash up of the two managed to be, on balance, more entertaining than annoying.
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