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Raven’s Hollow: Shudder Film Review

Raven’s Hollow effectively uses atmosphere and strong visuals to make a satisfying horror experience, despite some clunky dialogue and questionable direction choices.

I love talking about horror tropes, for this website! Let’s talk about some more! We’re familiar with the old outsider or outsiders who come to a strange town with a dark secret, and slowly they uncover the horror and darkness lurking beneath the surface story, right? I mean, we’ve seen it in The Wicker Man (1973), The Howling (1981), Sleepy Hollow (1999), Get Out (2017), and Midsommar (2019) just to name a few. Frankly, it’s one of my favorite horror tropes, and when you match it up with a period setting, you’ve definitely captured my interest. Enter Raven’s Hollow, the most recent feature-length directorial offering from Christopher Hatton. As with any movie making use of a well-tread trope, I’m curious how this particular film will stand apart from the others.

Raven’s Hollow centers on a young Edgar Allan Poe (William Moseley), still a cadet at Westpoint Military Academy, who’s out on a training exercise with four other men. They come across a mutilated dying man tied to a shrine in the woods, and end up in the nearby town of Raven’s Hollow, a mysterious town of mysterious and brooding locals, and many dark secrets.

The film’s greatest strength lies in its visuals, because, by and large, it’s a very good-looking movie. The cinematography beautifully complements the period scenery, and they work together to craft some beautiful and absolutely harrowing frames and tableaus. The lighting is also quite good, effectively using ambient and environmental light to counter darkness, effectively creating mood and atmosphere while still making sure the audience can see what’s going on. The prosthetics and blood also look excellent throughout, and they keep their shock value as the movie relies more on atmosphere to create scares, making sure you’re not desensitized when the more gruesome imagery comes on screen. The one visual element that doesn’t work as well is the CGI. Raven’s Hollow seems like it has a low budget, and most of the time it does a great job with the tools it has. But the CGI doesn’t look all that great, and it can take you out of the film for a bit. Luckily, the CGI isn’t used very often, so it doesn’t ruin the film or anything.

loud and clear reviews Raven’s Hollow shudder 2022 film gothic horror movie
Raven’s Hollow (Lauris Aizupietis / Shudder)

The soundtrack is mostly excellent as well: it opens weakly as the melody is played on what sounds like a keyboard’s clarinet setting, but it quickly improves making heavy use of tension-creating drones with just the right amount of frantic dissonance to create tense soundscapes. The music perfectly complements the film’s tone, which is refreshingly consistent throughout: in the past, I’ve reviewed horror movies that struggled to decide what they wanted to be, but Raven’s Hollow knows what it is and wholeheartedly commits to, making a cohesive and chilling horror experience.

Where Raven’s Hollow struggles most is in its script and its direction. The narrative itself is engaging, and the pacing and tone are both usually consistent and appropriate. But the actual words the actors have to work with, not always, but are often a little awkward. I get that Poe’s dialogue is intentionally flowery and poetic to reflect the man’s artistic nature, but he sounds very out of place waxing poetic surrounded by blood body remains. On top of that, some character motivations are unclear leading to some puzzling decisions from certain people. 

When the actors are delivering their dialogue, the flow of the scene sometimes has too much dead space, making the performances feel wooden or stilted. There are plenty of places where the actors shine, I have to imagine their more awkward moments are due to directorial errors. Another choice I found confounding was the characters’ accents. Raven’s Hollow takes place in a tiny village in upstate New York in the early-1800s, yet one character has a Scottish accent, another sounds like they’re from the deep American south, one sounds German, and there are a few more I can quite put my finger on. If this took place in a more metropolitan area, it’d make sense to have so many different dialects, but I just found it unlikely that a podunk little town out in the middle of nowhere would have such accent diversity.

All in all, Raven’s Hollow is a solid horror flick! The film’s effective use of a spooky atmosphere, good period mise-en-scène, and some really well-crafted shots make it an enjoyable ride for horror fans. Yes, I do think the script could have benefitted from maybe one more draft, but Christopher Hatton should be proud of what he’s made. I know I’m looking forward to his next one!

Raven’s Hollow streams exclusively on Shudder from Thursday, September 22.

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