Review: The Raven
PLOT: In this fictional account of Edgar Allan Poe's last days, there is a dark cloud hanging over late 1840’s Baltimore. When a series of brutal murders are fashioned after Edgar Allan Poe’s work, the police begin to suspect the writer himself. Yet when Poe’s wealthy – and secret - lover is kidnapped. With her disappearance comes a series of clues to the killer’s next move. Due to the bizarre nature of the crimes, the detective investigating the case requests Poe – with his unique knowledge of the crimes - to aid in the hunt for a murderer.
Edgar Allan Poe has always been and always will be influential in the world of horror. His nightmarish tales of twisted terror and lunacy still resonate with writers and filmmakers. This is especially evident with THE RAVEN, a fictional account of Poe’s final days before his untimely – and mysterious – death. Director James McTeigue (V FOR VENDETTA) gives this pseudo biographical tale a touch of bloody horror that is at times quite unsettling and occasionally even suspenseful. Yet it is not always a blood-curdling delight.
THE RAVEN follows Edgar Allan Poe (a wonderfully wild performance by John Cusack) who is a lowly writer/critic and alcoholic who nobody takes seriously. Yet somebody soon begins to take him deadly serious when they commit a series of heinous murders inspired by Poe’s work. During the investigation, a detective (Luke Evans) finds the similarities between the author and the killings. He suspects that the one day master of the macabre may very well be the culprit - or simply the key to solving the case. Yet when Edgar’s not so secret sweetheart Emily (Alice Eve) is kidnapped by the murderous copy cat, both Poe and Detective Fields must work together to save the damsel in distress from a premature burial.
As much as the look of THE RAVEN made for a moody gothic tale, the structure and editing are sometimes disturbingly awkward. This is especially evident when the screams of a mother carry through an old building. She is begging an unseen thing to spare her daughter and it is a pretty effective genre moment. Yet in the midst of this nightmare, it cuts to another scene completely sacrificing the momentum created. There are scene changes like this where the impact and the intensity just disappear altogether. The horrific aspects really have so much going for them that it is very much a letdown whenever this happens.
Some of what is played out in this fictionalized account of Poe’s final days is terrific. As previously mentioned, Cusack is in top form as the demented writer wallowing in his destined demise. McTeigue keeps much of the feature to a somber tone drenched in gothic atmosphere. And of course the murder set pieces are not near what I expected. When most of today’s gore is toned down for an audience friendly PG-13 rating, THE RAVEN is surprisingly gruesome. The highlight – looking like it came right out of a SAW flick – is the frighteningly horrific pit and the pendulum scene. It also helped that the poor slob on the sharp end of the blade was a critic… very clever folks, very clever. Or should I say cleaver?
I would love to say how great THE RAVEN is. In fact, some of it I did really find enthralling. McTeigue crafted such a beautiful film to look at from the gruesome set pieces to the creative camera work. There is certainly a morbid beauty here. The cast is also mostly good, especially Cusack who has the difficult task of playing one of history’s most legendary authors. Yet the choppy editing and a predictable and not altogether inspired story are like arsenic to what could have been chillingly brilliant. As a fan of Edgar Allan Poe I can give this a slight recommendation for a few moments of brilliance for fans of his writing. However, this might be appropriate for an evening at home on Blu-ray as opposed to giving up your purse for an expensive night out. With any luck however, Poe’s work will be discovered by a new generation of fans who want to read something that is truly terrifying.