Upstate New York, c. 1830. Five West Point cadets on an unsupervised exercise come across a dying, disembowelled man hung up like a scarecrow – he manages to breathe a single word (‘raven’) before expiring. The cadets bear the corpse to the nearby town of Raven’s Hollow in the hope that someone with take an interest, but find the locals furtive and curiously calm about the whole thing. Edgar Poe (William Moseley), not yet completely of a melancholy and macabre disposition, convinces his comrades that they should make some attempt to find out what’s going on, and the prospect of a night in a rooming house rather than the woods persuades them to go along with him. By daylight, the town is even stranger and sometimes deserted – and the small detachment begins to sustain casualties as something unseen but air-borne picks them off.
American director-writer Christopher Hatton made the derivative, if reasonably entertaining robot- and zombie-apocalypse pictures Battle of the Damned and Robotropolis about ten years ago. Made in Latvia with a mostly British cast, this period horror/biopic fusion is more ambitious – though it falls slightly into that odd convention of presuming no one could have the imagination to dream up horror stories without having encountered real supernatural menace. Besides a raven of sorts – some sort of demon – this features a character called Usher (Oberon K.A. Adjepong) and several other elements we’re supposed to think Poe later drew on for his stories and poems (including one extremely tell-tale heart). At West Point, Poe was an unhappy misfit and eventually provoked a court-martial to get expelled, but this doesn’t deal with any of the real issues of that period of his life – he was already a published poet – so it can focus on an air of growing dread.
Moseley is excellent as an underplayed Edgar, more imaginative than his comrades – which makes him take charge, but also causes resentment. And there’s splendid work from Melanie Zanetti, Kate Dickie and David Hayman as the folk of Raven’s Hollow, who are ambigiously welcoming but completely ‘off’. The raven attacks are varied, strange and striking, putting this in a slim category of reinvented monsters wedded to American history with Ginger Snaps Back and Ravenous. The story was co-written by Hatton and Chuck Reeves (Ogre).