The Raven is a dark and gritty crime drama. A couple of heads roll, and a couple of telltale hearts beat. Director James McTeigue is famous for V for Vendetta, and now he shows us his slasher side. He called Edgar Allen Poe “repulsive and wacky” in an interview with Flixist, and he’s clearly taken that to heart in this non-biographical film about the macabre writer.
Director: James McTeigue
Release Date: 4/27/12
The Raven turns Edgar Allen Poe’s tales of foreboding and macabre into slasher horror fest. The new thriller from director James McTeigue is a drab take on the mysterious circumstances of Edgar Allen Poe’s final days. In effect, it turns Poe into ABC’s Richard Castle, a crime novel writer with a fan who’s a bit too devoted.
A serial killer decides to reenact Poe’s tales of murder one by one, with real live victims instead of fictional ones. He slices up a man in a pit with a pendulum, buries people alive, and shoves bodies up chimneys. He kidnaps Poe’s fiancée (blonde and blande Alive Eve), and leaves trails of murderous clues for Poe to follow to save her. The film unravels as an unremarkable procedural, peppered here and there with grisly murders that were designed to sate slasher thriller fans of the Saw loving ilk, but feel out of place in this otherwise mild drama.
John Cusack plays John Cusack as Edgar Allen Poe, and once again history is forsaken in favor of the cinematic. Cusack alludes to Poe’s famous social anxieties and depression, but in script only. Instead of a hermit, Cusack’s Poe is a boisterous, confrontational self-aggrandizer, boasting in bars and in newspaper rooms about his genius. He drinks, but never seems drunk, weeps, but never seems truly sad. What Cusack does manage to pull off is a manic, obsessive artist. Which is fine, since watching an agoraphobe sit in his room isn’t much fun.
For better or worse, this is how the film relates to its historical hero: with glancing allusions to the historical facts, but not much deference to them. It touches on the fact that Poe was discovered near death on a park bench, but instead of his final days being a syphilitic haze, it morphs the master of macabre’s of life into a bleak multiple-murder mystery. It notes that Poe was a romantic, but chooses, perhaps wisely, to omit that he married his prepubescent cousin. In all its forays away from historical fact, however, the films seems to miss the point of Edgar Allen Poe’s writing altogether.
Poe’s stories are about fear, foreboding, and anxiety. They are not about spurting blood or getting to the bottom of a crime scene. So the film falls apart, because while we’re busy watching Poe race from one clue to the next, we miss out on the dark, terrified fear of impending death that he spent his career attempting to evoke.
To McTeigue’s credit, the movie, which was shot on film, at least looks right. It has deep, rich blacks, blues, and grays, which lend a somber, muted tone to the whole affair that would have made Poe proud. Even the blood is dark and murky with purple undertones. There’s a wonderful ball room scene that is supposed to mirror the Masque of the Red Death story, and the muted colors and rich textures make this the stand out visual set piece.
The Raven skips swiftly along from clue to clue, and frantic search to frantic search. There’s a lot of hair-wringing and convoluted clue decipherings (“The random victim was a seaman? Oh! There’s a boat called something Poe-esque in the harbor!”). In the end, we don’t care much about Poe or his Annabel Lee, and that’s the downfall of The Raven. The characters are victims of their circumstances, and we don’t ever really see the darkness in Poe that prompts his dark tales, and even darker death. Too bad. A movie about Poe and his young cousin/bride hiding out in his room might not have been so boring, after all.