Directed by: James McTeigue
Written by: Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare (screenplay)
Starring: John Cusack, Luke Evans, Alice Eve and Brendan Gleeson
Edgar Allan Poe was an alcoholic, as many fine writers were. Perhaps the most admirable thing about James McTeigue’s The Raven, an intensely fictionalized history of his final days, is that it does not shy away from that. Poe (John Cusack) is thrown out of a bar early on for picking a fight with the wrong people after being unable to pay for any brandy of his own.
Cusack’s take on Poe is as over-dramatic as the rest of the movie, and this bastardization of the twisted writers’ stories seems more fit for someone like Nicolas Cage. The Raven is a horror murder mystery more in the vein of Saw than in period drama. A serial killer is prowling the streets of Baltimore leaving elaborate recreations of deaths from Poe’s stories. Stock characters like the moral crusading detective (Luke Evans), the damsel in distress (Alice Eve) and her controlling father (Brendan Gleeson) form around Poe to create a story as uninteresting as it is gory.
Like the Saw films, we are given tedious narrative and our patience is rewarded every so often with a horrific murder. A Poe story like The Pit and the Pendulum, whose protagonist’s internal torment and experience is the key driving force of the narrative, is made into nothing more than a gory spectacle. The only pleasure I got out of this movie was remembering many of those older, better stories.
McTeigue is not a bad director. The recreation of the party fromMasque of the Red Deathis a glamorous spectacle, inter-cut with a masked rider on a horse bathed in fog inching closer and closer to the doomed occasion. Instead of killing everyone at the party, though, Poe’s love interest is kidnapped.
It’s this kind of watering down and altering that makes The Raven a pure exercise in kitsch. If not for the presence of Poe and his work, this would be a run-of-the-mill kidnapping procedural, which is mostly still is. Period clothing and gore also attempts to disguise the mundane story, but to no avail. The stupidity of this mystery’s solution is no surprise, but it would be more excusable if it were a little more fun.