Originally posted at Toronto Film Scene.
Edgar Allan Poe is certainly an important figure in the world of literature. His work has inspired artists in numerous fields, but it’s the horror genre that has truly embraced him. With The Raven, director James McTeigue not only brings the work of Edgar Allan Poe to the screen, but pieces of his life as well. Fact and fiction are weaved together, giving us a tense and bloody film that Poe fans will enjoy.
John Cusack plays Edgar Allan Poe, frequently drunk and struggling to survive as a writer. He’s also engaging in a secretive relationship with Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve), something her father, Captain Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson), does not approve of. When a string of murders occur, Detective Fields (Luke Evans) realizes that they’re all based on Poe’s work, forcing the two men to work together. The killer’s next target becomes Emily, leaving Poe in a race against time to find her before she becomes the next victim.
It doesn’t take very long for The Raven to offer up some bloody scenes. Within the first few minutes, a woman and her daughter are found murdered in their room. Not very long after, the pendulum makes an appearance, separating the upper half of a man from his lower half in gruesome fashion. Unfortunately, after these fantastic scenes of gore, something horror fans will surely enjoy, the film becomes rather bloodless.
John Cusack and Luke Evans both deliver some uneven performances. There are moments where each man seems to be really over the top and others where their performance is almost flawless. You could apply this same problem to the entire film. All throughout the movie there are some scenes that work so well, only to be followed by a scene that doesn’t. The final moments where the killer is revealed are some of the best in the movie. The murderer is incredibly twisted and the scene is extremely tense, but by then it’s too late. The middle of the film just seems to happen, and even a great ending can’t improve that.
It’s unfortunate that the middle of the film fails to excite, because writers Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare have done an amazing job of twisting fact into fiction. Combining the people, places, and events of Poe’s life with a fictional portrayal of Edgar Allan Poe is a great idea. He’s suddenly a character in his own work, a victim of his own morbid writing. A great concept that doesn’t seem to be fully realized. Readers familiar with Poe will probably find more enjoyment in the film. Lines of dialogue that are taken from his writing will give fans something to listen for, but might leave others out of the loop.
Overall, The Raven entertains, but it could have been a great gothic thriller. The mystery of the killer and the atmosphere of the entire film fail to reach the heights one would expect, and the performances of John Cusack and Luke Evans are too uneven to truly capture your attention. Fans of Edgar Allan Poe will certainly enjoy the film, but there’s not enough to entice the rest of the audience.
The Raven opens April 27, 2012.