Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack) is reviled by most people who know him. He’s an abusive drunk who considers his work greater than any other authors. Struggling with his own writing, Poe turns to critiquing other for the local Baltimore newspaper in exchange for money. Poe latest review of a Longfellow poem gets bumped for coverage of a grizzly double murder of a mother and her young daughter. Inspector Emmit Fields (Luke Evans) realizes while looking over the scene that it reminds him of a story written by Poe. Meanwhile, Poe is courting the lovely Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve) while simultaneously annoying Colonel Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson), her father. Meeting secretly at his home, Poe proposes marriage to Emily and she accepts. Her plan is to announce their engagement at her annual birthday costume ball. Inspector Fields approaches Poe during his investigation of the double homicide, as a possible suspect, when a second murder takes place. A man has been cut in half by a device similar to the one described in Poe’s story “The Pit and the Pendulum.” Clues left at the scene indicate another murder may take place at the costume ball at Colonel Hamilton’s estate. Despite several officers dressed like party goers, a man on horseback dressed like a skeleton rides into the ball. Thinking it’s the killer; Fields shoots the man who it is discovered is actually an actor who thought he was hired to perform at the party. It’s only then that people realize Emily has been abducted. The actor has a note from the killer challenging Poe to write a story weaving together the facts of the murders he’s about to commit with a fictional story of Poe’s creation. The condition of each murder victim will provide clues to the location where Emily is being held. If Poe doesn’t play along, Emily will die.
On its face, “The Raven” is an interesting idea. It takes the twisted violence from stories by Edgar Allan Poe and wonders what would happen if a serial killer began using it as a blueprint for real terror. Unfortunately, as with many interesting ideas, the problem comes from the execution of that idea. “The Raven” wastes a good concept and cast with a bad story and dull moviemaking.
I can’t say at any point I was terribly interested in what was happening in the film. The action scenes are brief and not very exciting and the exposition between them doesn’t grab the imagination. The mystery at hand, the identity the killer, is left to hang at the edges of the story as Poe and Fields try to find Emily. While she is certainly worth finding, trussed up in her period costumes, her bosom prominently shoved into view, many people are killed to provide the duo with clues to her location. The victims and their families aren’t given much consideration.
Cusack and company do a reasonable job of slogging through their roles despite a script that tries to be both modern and old fashioned at the same time. It manages to fail at both and comes off as just clunky. The soundtrack sounds a great deal like something from the “Sherlock Holmes” films which I suspect is not an accident. There was probably hope this film would have similar success to the two Guy Ritchie/Robert Downey, Jr. films. There’s little probability of that. Most of the sets are very dark. Perhaps it was an effort to give the film a more Gothic feel. All it manages to do is just look dull.
As often happens with mysteries, the story relies on far too many coincidences to move the plot along. There are a few little tidbits of information that help solve the whodunit that actually are interesting but they are far outweighed by giant leaps of logic and pure dumb luck that take all reality out of the story and make it more of a fairy tale. A title card at the beginning of the film tries to tie the fictional story to the actual end of Poe’s life but that also comes off as a contrivance.
“The Raven” is rated R for bloody violence and grisly images. There are lots of blood pools around people’s heads. We see one man cut in half and another man getting his throat slashed. We see birds (ravens, of course) picking at the corpse of a dead cat and its unborn kittens. Poe’s pet raccoon is seen eating at a human heart (don’t ask). There is a fair amount of foul language scattered about.
“The Raven” wants to be Gothic and dark but is more like a cheap t-shirt from Hot Topic: A poor imitation of both. While the film starts with an interesting premise, it fails miserably to convert that potential into something other than a dull, conventional thriller with a throw-away villain and an unlikable hero. That’s not exactly a winning combination.
“The Raven” gets two guitars out of five…and never more. Get it?!
There’s only one new movie coming out this week. “The Avengers” is the biggest collection of comic book heroes on screen in history. I imagine it will make a few bucks as many of these films do which begs the question: What’s your favorite comic book/superhero movie?
Superman with Christopher Reeve
Batman with Michael Keaton
The Dark Knight with Christian Bale
Captain America: The First Avenger
X-Men with Hugh Jackman
X-Men: First Class with James McAvoy
The Hulk with Eric Bana
The Incredible Hulk with Edward Norton
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.