Edgar Allan Poe was a troubled man, and his twisted imagination that gave us such delightful horrors as ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’, ‘The Cask of Amontillado’, ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’, ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’ and ‘The Raven’ undoubtedly made his world a dark place. Modern fiction owes much to his gifted storytelling, but when he was alive back in the mid-1800’s, his stories were much enjoyed but rather unprofitable. Still, with a macabre gift for creating frightening deaths, what would happen if a killer found inspiration in his stories and started killing people in an alarming homage?
That’s the premise behind ‘The Raven’ and with the always likable John Cusack as Poe, it’s a fun period mystery suffering from a number of flaws that ultimately doom it to a demise whose irony only Poe would appreciate. With an investigation led by Inspector Fields (Luke Evans) and eye candy offered through the fetching Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve) who is secretly engaged to Poe, over the vehement objections of her stoic father Colonel Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson), the die is cast.
The film starts out strong — albeit perhaps a bit more grisly than is necessary for this sort of period mystery — but then things break down as the script flaws begin to surface and the Evan’s wooden performance as the police inspector becomes glaringly obvious.
A series of murders based on Poe stories with the killer challenging the author to solve the mystery of his identity before it’s too late and Emily meets her demise should be a great foundation for a fast-paced Victorian-era film, but the narrative just doesn’t hold together and the improbabilities stack up way too fast. In one scene we’ll see a dozen police assisting in the investigation, then moments later Poe is mano-a-mano with the mysterious killer and the officers don’t follow or move to assist.
Still, I do enjoy a period drama and figured out who the killer was, just to be surprised that it wasn’t actually that person at all. Neat. The ending? Well, as with many films, it would have been far better had they finished the film about four minutes before the titles come up and left a bit of ambiguity about what happened to the killer. And speaking of which, the titles were oddly inappropriate for a film set in the mid 1850s too, and would have fit better in Battleship or The Island.
So should you go see The Raven? If you’re a Cusack fan or want to see what it would look like to toss ‘Anonymous’ and ‘Saw’ into a blender, perhaps. Otherwise this will be a good DVD rental in a few months.