The Raven

The Raven


Reviewed by: David Graham

Edgar Allan Poe's cinematic legacy is as extensive as it is chequered, arguably peaking with Roger Corman's 1960s 'cycle' of eight lavish films, which encompassed an even larger number of stories within themselves. The infamous Gothic author's rich but compact tales of terror are timelessly ripe for adaptation, but have been strangely neglected of late.

The Raven attempts to rectify this by cramming vignettes from a variety of Poe's best-known pieces into a pretty bog-standard mystery thriller, one which strangely has very little to do with its namesake poem (Murder, He Wrote would be a more fitting title). Camp when it could be creepy, silly where it should be scary, V For Vendetta director James McTeigue's latest offering is fitfully entertaining but tragically turgid and formulaic for the most part.

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With a bad case of writer's block, dwindling finances and an alcoholic streak that has seen him become an outcast in his town, the last thing Poe needs is to be implicated in a series of murders. Heading up the investigation is Detective Fields, who notices tell-tale signs from Poe's stories in the killer's methodology, soon realising that the wayward author may be the key to cracking the crime-scene riddles. With each fresh cadaver, the pair seem to be closing in on the culprit, but cracking the case becomes a race against time when Poe's fiance is kidnapped and used as bait to lure him towards a meeting with a most ardent and maniacal admirer.

Like several other recent Hollywood attempts to rebottle the Gothic spirit, The Raven is too polished by far, overflowing with CGI-assisted camera moves, histrionic editing and an anachronistic guitar-laden score. As with the similarly messy recent remake of The Wolfman, it also suffers from an international cast of thesps that seem to be acting in different films; some play it admirably straight while others resort to pantomime over-acting, with a range of accents wavering from authentic to embarrassing.

Rising Brit star Luke Evans makes a good fist of the Yankee brogue as Poe's heroic policeman sidekick, his charisma and conviction carrying him through some cliched scenes of deduction-heavy dialogue, while his fellow co-stars are arguably better than their lead at evoking the period sensibility, but the ensemble never seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet.

The biggest problem lies with Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare's interpretation of the character of Poe. As played by Cusack, he never really seems insane or indeed a genius, merely something of an egotistically erudite buffoon. Sure, his blustering and bravado are amusing - especially his repeated slandering of his 'mouth-breather' neighbours - but the depths of bittersweet darkness contained in Poe's writing and life story are poorly represented by Cusack's caricature of such a fascinating figure. At the expense of Alice Eve's perfunctory (and fictional) damsel-in-distress, we should be given a greater sense of the life he lived and the loves he lost, but they're only referred to in passing through a few throwaway lines here and there.

A particularly vicious re-enactment of The Pit And The Pendulum serves as a timely reminder that this torture porn business isn't such a new fad after all, as well as being a tantalising taste of things hopefully to come. The inevitable premature burial is reasonably well-handled, but can't hold a candle to the clammy claustrophobia of similar scenes in the likes of Kill Bill Vol 2 or the entirety of Buried.

It's not long though before these early chilling moments give way to rote detective work, the mysteries all too easily solved and too tidily tied in to the stories informing the murders. The mind boggles as to the potential for fiendish puzzles contained in Poe's nightmarish yet deceptively simple tales, but the scriptwriters here consistently choose obvious source material without putting enough of a devilish spin on its representation. Fatally, the climactic revelation of the killer's identity is also entirely underwhelming, although some Scooby-Doo-style motive-exposition does flesh out the plot's timely themes of misplaced hero worship and the potentially corrupting power of art.

Stuart Gordon fared better with his unavoidably similar Masters Of Horror episode The Black Cat, wherein Jeffrey Combs tapped more successfully into Poe's feverish yet romantic psyche, layering him with pathetic traits but sympathetic troubles, while the cult director of many HP Lovecraft adaptations conveyed the frightening dementia that fueled his subject's imagination with an economical script and shoestring budget. Cusack might make for a nicely glazed ham, but he's miscast in a mediocre movie that misjudges its own material as well as Poe's, and ultimately will disappoint devotees of his written work as well as of the horror genre in general.

Reviewed on: 21 Mar 2012
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Gothic author Edgar Allan Poe becomes implicated in a series of murders that use his stories as inspiration.
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Director: James McTeigue

Writer: Ben Livingston, Hannah Shakespeare

Starring: John Cusack, Luke Evans, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson, Kevin McNally, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Jimmy Yuill, Sam Hazeldine, Pam Ferris, Brendan Coyle, Adrian Rawlins, Aidan Feore, Dave Legeno, Michael Cronin, Péter Fancsikai

Year: 2012

Runtime: 111 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US, Hungary, Spain


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