Andy Boxall takes a look at James McTeigue’s lifeless thriller about the final days of Edgar Allen Poe as the infamous writer tries to track down a killer inspired by his stories.
Here’s what John Cusack, the star of The Raven, has to say about the decision to give his character — famed poet and gothic horror writer Edgar Allan Poe — a pet raccoon. “If I remember correctly, I think we did that because there was a theory that he had rabies, so it was a little bit of an inside joke. I don’t think he did have a raccoon.” Interesting. Well, vaguely.
If you’re wondering why we’re talking about a raccoon instead of the film, it’s because it is one of the movie’s more daring choices, which otherwise takes few chances with its subject matter. Set in Baltimore in the 1800s, police detective Fields realises a murderer is using the works of writer Edgar Allen Poe as inspiration. When Poe’s fiancé Emily Hamilton is kidnapped by the murderer, Poe and Fields join forces to catch the killer. But time is running out, and Poe’s sanity hangs by a thread.
Sadly, the film doesn’t quite live up to this interesting premise, and is often slow and lacking in suspense. I like John Cusack very much, however not in this type of role, and his casting brought back memories of the equally poor 1408. Luke Evans, best known to me as being easily mistaken for Sam Worthington; scowls, growls and broods as Detective Fields. He brings what’s needed to the role, but like Cusack, doesn’t really engage the viewer emotionally. These two share the majority of the screen time, with Brendan Gleeson, Kevin McNally and Alice Eve, who plays Poe’s abducted lover, occasionally popping up to try to give the plot a jump start.
The Raven plods along, with only one decent set piece in a theatre standing out, and a decent — if brief — recreation of Poe’s infamous apparatus of torture from The Pit and the Pendulum. While there is a little CGI gore here, the film isn’t a horror movie, but a standard murder mystery. Oh, and the only biographical aspect I could spot concerns Poe’s supposed last words.
The film is directed by James McTeigue, who also directed V for Vendetta, a visually striking and often unfairly maligned film, and I was hoping The Raven was equally as misunderstood. Unfortunately, it’s not.
It reminded me of the Hughes Brothers’ From Hell, a film set in a similar time period — although on another continent — that should have been more suspenseful than it was, and like The Raven, filled with scenes shot in almost complete darkness. Creating atmosphere with the use of clever lighting is one thing, but switching them all out and hoping for the same effect is another thing entirely. The lead characters share a few similarities too, as both are considered talented, but struggle with crippling addictions.
Although The Raven is set in Baltimore, and presumably it’s an accurate vision of the time period, it does bear a striking resemblance to Hollywood’s vision of London around that same time, recalling not only From Hell, but Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes too. The sets are all excellent though, the score suitably dramatic and haunting, and the Blu-ray transfer perfectly passable; it’s just a shame the film is mediocre.
Directed by: James McTeigue
Written by: Ben Livingston, Hannah Shakespeare
Starring: John Cusack, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson, Luke Evans
Released: 2012 / Genre: Thriller / Country: USA / IMDB