Film: The Raven
Starring: John Cusack, Luke Evans, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson
Director: James McTeigue
John Cusack wrote on twitter that one should consider The Raven a dream or thriller about Poe, as opposed to a biopic, which is about the most succinct and accurate review you’re likely to get of this film. Anyone who goes in thinking it to be a biopic of any form is sorely mistaken, for this is historically accurate the way The Tudors was historically accurate. History – and more precisely, literature – is a guideline, as opposed to a general rule. The film offers to fill in the gaps surrounding the last few days of Poe’s life, before he was found half-dead on a park bench and succumbed to an unknown ailment four days later. The exact cause of death remains a mystery. The Raven is named for perhaps the best-known of Poe’s works and envisages a final week or so of his life in which he was tormented by a crazed killer who used his stories as inspiration for a series of gruesome murders.
In October 1849, Edgar Allen Poe (John Cusack, who needs to start spending more time onscreen again) is rambling aimlessly about Baltimore. He’s a boorish, drunken buffoon when first we meet him, troubling every bar owner he can find for booze despite his paltry finances. He gets in fights and argues with his editor, his discourse splendidly eloquent and gloriously acerbic. Elsewhere in Baltimore, the police discover two bodies in a sealed room – that of a mother, near-decapitated, and her daughter, strangled and stuffed in a chimney. Investigating detective Emmett Fields (Luke Evans) realises that the crime is an exact replica of that described by Poe in The Murders in the Rue Morgue, a story recently published in the newspaper. Later, a critic with whom Poe shared a longstanding rivalry turns up sawn rather unpleasantly in half in an apparent homage to The Pit and the Pendulum. However, it is when Poe’s paramour Emily (Alice Eve) is kidnapped that the writer joins forces with Fields to track down the killer, who has challenged him to a deadly game of cat and mouse in order to find her alive.
I’d love to describe The Raven as profoundly silly, but it does take itself somewhat seriously. That said, it is actually a very enjoyable film. I’m sure many will take issue with how flimsy it is as a thriller, but if you go in open to a bit of cartoonish horror you ought not to be disappointed. Cusack is, for the most part, an impressive incarnation of Poe. He’s charismatic and engaging, even at the film’s outset when he’s acting like a dithering snob. Later on in the film, he’s prone to excessive over-acting and the frequent yelling gets irksome, though this could also be seen as a decent interpretation of the slightly manic author and his unhinged descent into near-madness. Alice Eve fares less well as the object of his affections, though to be fair neither she nor Cusack can make their characters’ tepid romance realistic. The proposal is a hatchet job, and it is a shame that her character is largely a plot device and serves no real purpose otherwise. Luke Evans is serious and composed as the detective, offering a stable presence next to Cusack’s wilder machinations. There is some blunt horror in the gratuitousness of the murders and a few scenes will genuinely make you jump. Further, the film manages to capture a pleasing sense of darkness throughout – and not just because it’s practically photographed in monochrome.
Of course, it’s not without its flaws – it’s about twenty minutes too long and the story is lukewarm at best. A lot of the dialogue doesn’t ring true for the era in which it’s set, and it hardly needs to be said that genuine horror fans aren’t going to be enamored. However, if you are open to a bit of harmless, vaguely literary enjoyment, The Raven is immensely entertaining. It’s undemanding and delightfully loopy, so leave your brain at reception and proceed.
Review written by: Grace Duffy (Twitter)