If I had all the elements of a perfect movie sitting in a bucket, just waiting to be pulled out and snapped together like a Lego toy, I couldn’t do any better than the pieces that make up The Raven. With John Cusack (one of my favorite actors), playing Edgar Allan Poe (one of my favorite writers of the macabre), in a story reminiscent of The Alienist by Caleb Carr (one of my favorite books), what more could I possibly want?
Unfortunately, The Raven is less than the sum of its parts.
Written by Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare, and directed by James McTeigue (V for Vendetta), The Raven starts out promisingly enough, melding non-fictional aspects of Edgar Allan Poe’s life with a fictional murder mystery. Poe is introduced as a hapless author running on the fumes of his waning celebrity. With his creative well run dry, he scrapes by writing poetry reviews for a Baltimore newspaper. But his dead-end life takes a startling turn when a serial killer uses his horror stories for inspiration.
The first few murders are satisfyingly gory, and the level of intrigue and suspense are intense enough to make you think you’re headed for a 19th century version of Se7en. A young detective, played by Luke Evans, enlists Edgar’s help in capturing the killer who is leaving intricate clues on each new corpse. When his own fiance is abducted, Poe discovers that he means more to the killer than just a source of inspiration – and it’s at this point that the movie starts to go down hill for me.
The problems begin with the abduction scene itself. Poe attends a ball with his fiance Emily (Alice Eve), where the killer is believed to strike next. Despite a bevy of police and guards, the killer manages to stage a clever distraction and when the shit hits the fan, Edgar and Emily retreat from the commotion. The next thing we see is Emily in the hands of the killer without any kind of explanation. Maybe it seems like a minor point, but I wasn’t the only one in the theater who noticed it, and that bit of sloppy editing bugged me for the rest of the movie.
It’s also here that Cusack’s character shifts from troubled author to frantic detective, and his performance becomes a lot less interesting. The intrigue takes a turn toward the cartoonish as they close in on the masked killer, and in fact the reveal at the end was like something straight out of ScoobyDoo. (The killer isn’t old man Jenkins, but it’s pretty close.)
Maybe I set myself up by expecting too much – I’ve been looking forward to The Raven for quite awhile – but despite the strong start, I just couldn’t help but be disappointed by the latter half.
Dave_P studied fine arts and film history and is a graphic and web designer, and a diehard movie fan. David has been involved with a variety film festivals including the Cinephile Film Festival, the PRIDE Film festival, and the Manhattan Short Film festival, and is currently the director of the Dark Carnival Film Fest in Bloomington, Indiana. (www.darkcarnivalfilmfest.com)