Last night I went to a sneak preview of The Raven, and I am absolutely grateful that I didn’t pay for it. I was b-o-r-e-d. It’s not that it wasn’t full of action. It’s not that it didn’t have violence. It’s not that it didn’t have a case of fantastic actors. But none of it clicked. Poe was both comedic and melancholy, Investigator Fields (police representative) was both insightful and idiotic, and the Killer was both elaborately imaginative and unbelievably…believable.
Quick plot recap:
Someone is going around Baltimore killing people in ways inspired by Poe’s tales of the grotesque. Poe, newly back in Baltimore right as the killings begin, is the first suspect. Particularly given that at least one of the victims have a direct connection to the author. Thankfully, the detective on the case, Investigator Fields, is smart enough to realize that Poe is merely the inspiration for the murders and not the designer. Thus begins the hunt for the killer.
To say more would spoil any fun that film-goers might have, but I will say this – we are told, from the beginning, that on October 7, 1849 Poe was found on a bench in Baltimore shortly before he died, no one knowing how he filled his last days. An interesting plot driver, sure, but as we witness the film, there is no possible way that his last days went unnoticed. EVERYONE knew what Poe was up to leading up to his death. That he is working with the police on the case is the first indication that someone knew something. But that’s not the largest issue this film faces. Its largest is that of identity.
Trust me when I say that calling The Raven a victim of an identity crisis is in no way meant to be a joke on Cusack’s former role in the amazing film Identity. That film is an absolute blast. A true thriller.
The Raven, however, suggests from the trailer that it’s more Sherlock Holmes when it should have been more like Se7en. Murders inspired by Poe should involve psychological violence and render emotional trauma. When I read “The Pit and the Pendulum” for the first time, I stopped breathing and didn’t noticed until I had finished. I was so engaged in reading, lost in the macabre, that I didn’t realize that I was holding my breath. Here, however, there was no suspense. No edge-of-terror feelings. No “What’s in the box?!” moments. Worse, the deaths don’t even proceed with a sense of escalation. The first victims are killed cleverly, the second brutally, and the third happens outside of the view of the audience – only to be found when Poe does. From here, the film is more mystery than macabre.
Director James McTeigue has an exceptional resume of work – whether as director for V for Vendetta or as assistant director for Speed Racer, The Matrix series, and Dark City – and it’s a shame that this has his name on it. The story had amazing potential, but just falls flat on what it COULD have been. The potential for a story involving Poe is enormous. Watching the film, I nearly wanted the killer to be a figment of the imagination since we never see him unless someone is alone. In fact, I would have preferred if the majority of the story had been the result of Poe having some psychotic break (see: Fight Club) because that would have been far more interesting than what was delivered.
1 out of 5
The action is decent and the cast is fantastic. I regret that all them are so brutally underused and that Cusack did not make for a compelling Poe. My wife found it enjoyable, while I struggled to remain interested. I recommend waiting until Netflix or perhaps a discount theater to go, if you’re curious. She, however, advises that a $5 screening would be worth it. If it’s true terror you want, go find a copy of Poe’s work. Chilling.
John Cusack … Edgar Allan Poe
Luke Evans … Detective Fields
Alice Eve … Emily Hamilton
Brendan Gleeson … Captain Hamilton