A brutal killing spree terrorizes 19th-century Baltimore and a young detective turns to a
notorious author for help getting inside the mind of a serial killer in the stylish, gothic thriller, The
Raven, an audacious re-imagining of the lurid tales of Edgar Allan Poe. Starring John Cusack as the
infamous inventor of the detective fiction genre and Luke Evans as an ambitious sleuth determined
to stop more of Poeâs gruesome stories from coming to chilling lifeâand deathâThe Raven
weaves history and fiction into an original and twisted mystery worthy of the master of the macabre
The Raven is set in Baltimore, Maryland in the year 1849. When Detective Fields (Luke Evans from Immortals) stumbles upon a murder scene that is remarkably similar to Edgar Allan Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," he seeks out the famous writer (John Cusack from Better Off Dead) for questioning. When one of Poe's rival writers is murdered with the crime scene resembling his "The Pit and the Pendulum," Poe becomes a suspect. Once he is cleared as a suspect, Fields enlists his help in trying to catch the murderer. It soon becomes clear that the killer not only knows Poe, but wants to play a game with him, asking him to write the next chapters of his murder spree. The stakes are raised when the madman goes after Poe's love, Emily Hamilton (She's Out of My League's Alice Eve), and Fields and Poe race against time to catch the killer and save Emily before her time runs out.
The Raven walks a thin line between an action adventure film like Sherlock Holmes and a hard-boiled, dark mystery along the lines of Se7en. Unfortunately, it doesn't do either very well. It's not exciting enough to be a pulse-pounder and it's not horrifying enough to inspire a case of the creeps. The schizophrenia even translates into the inconsistent photography, with foggy, low-lit shots becoming bullet-POV special effect tricks at the drop of a hat. The result is a low-level whodunit that's slow-paced, wordy, uninteresting and, for anyone with a high school English class knowledge of Poe's work, predictable.
Directed by James McTeigue (V for Vendetta, Ninja Assassin) and written by newcomers Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare, The Raven suffers from its weak imitation of the period. The film looks like it was written to be set in 19th century New England without any research done into the era or area. The dialogue is on the nose and corny, lacking any real feeling or emotion. And, since there is so much dialogue in the script, the film ends up feeling forced and compromised.
Easily the best scenes in The Raven are the ones that invoke Poe's work, particularly the "Pit and the Pendulum" murder and a neat little search and chase through the sewers that recalls "The Cask of Amontillado." Few and far between, these sequences are more a credit to Poe's genius than McTeigue's talent, and they are just plopped into the film, a bit like the deadly sins murders in Se7en, except not nearly done as effectively. It's a shame that a film about one of the most simultaneously creative and disturbed minds in literary history ends up being such a tedious bore.
John Cusack is not a character actor. In every movie he makes, he plays the same guy; the only difference between Lane Meyer and Marshall Larkin is their age. Whenever Cusack acts, the audience can't help but see him as Lloyd Dobler standing in a driveway, holding a boom-box over his head. This is fine when that's the type of part that the movie calls for, like in High Fidelity or Grosse Pointe Blank. The Raven is not a movie like that, and Cusack's Poe is unconvincing. Edgar Allan Poe is an amazing character, one that requires a level of depth and versatility that Cusack lacks. Alice Eve's performance is stiff and awkward, too, like she just learned the meaning of the words in her lines a few minutes before speaking them. Neither Cusack nor Eve connects with either their character or the viewer; between the two of them, there is no sympathy or sense of identification generated, so the audience feels nothing for the characters as they go through the motions of their ordeals. The rest of the cast is alright, but with the two leads acting as an anchor, the entire ensemble sinks.
Horror, Thriller, Mystery
April 27, 2012