by M. Faust
Where is Roger Corman when you need him? His 1960s string of horror films bearing the name of Edgar Allen Poe may have had little to do with the stories whose titles they bore, but at least they were lurid fun. The Raven attempts to interject the real writer into a horror story based on his own fictions, but it’s unlikely to satisfy either Poe aficionados or fans who just want a few hours of cheap thrills.
Star John Cusack doesn’t look much like the real Poe (has the writer’s goatee period been underrepresented by portraiturists?) but at least appears at home in the all-black wardrobe we expect of a goth icon. An opening title informs us that Poe’s activities in the last few days of his life, before he was found raving on a Baltimore park bench, are unknown, cueing us not to expect a happy ending. (Though the one factor to recommend this to Poe buffs is that it gives him a nobler ending that the probable actual cause of his death, from alcohol poisoning.)
The plot is one you’ve seen in a hundred thrillers: A serial killer is at work in Baltimore, committing gruesome crimes and leaving clues about his plans that dare the police to stop him. In this case the killings are based on Poe stories—two dead women are found in a locked room, a man is killed by an axe-bladed pendulum (depicted with unwatchable gruesomeness). The detective on the case (Luke Evans) calls in Poe, who despite being frustrated by his inability to sell anything other than the horror stories he despises, is in good enough shape to be carrying on a romance with a young flower (Alice Eve) whose father disapproves. And we all know what happens to young ladies in films like this.
Mechanically directed by James McTeigue (V for Vendetta), The Raven shows no more appreciation for Poe than you could get from a passing familiarity with his plots and a quick look at his Wikipedia biography. All of which could be forgiven if only the movie weren’t such a lackluster retread. The dialogue shifts lazily between bad attempts at period recreation and modern idiom, with an inappropriate rock score that does its damnednest to bludgeon you into submission. The whole film has the underfunded feel of a project that began with higher aspirations before getting whittled down into a throwaway, probably when the producers actually read the script and decided not to waste any more money than they had to.
Watch the trailer for The Raven
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