There is a trend not only in literature but also in Hollywood to take classic works of fiction and put a modern spin on them. Audiences have enjoyed reading “Pride, Prejudice and Zombies” and Abe Lincoln: Vampire Killer will be released in theaters this year. The Raven follows this trend by incorporating some of Poe’s classic work into an entertaining thriller with the man himself as the protagonist.
The premise of the film involves a series of murders in Victorian-era Baltimore played out like the scenes from published Edgar Allen Poe stories. Poe is called upon to help investigate these murders and when his lady love is kidnapped by the killer, Poe must write a series of murder stories to try to get her back.
The film opens strong with death shoved in our faces. Edgar Allen Poe sits dying on a park bench while a cannibalistic image of ravens feasting on one of their own cuts to police investigating a gruesome double homicide. We are immediately plunged into a haunting world in which no one is safe from his own kind.
Hannah Shakespeare and Ben Livingston have written a unique script with an inspired storyline. They have clearly done their research of Edgar Allen Poe’s literary portfolio as they weave various elements and symbolism from his stories throughout the plot, providing clues to the murderer as well as winks to Poe literates. The script structure is parallel to how the villain enacts his devious plan – echoing the stories and providing clues to further the action. There is a nice moment in which a scene involving an editor lecturing Poe to write more gore instead of reviews that to a gory scene involving the death of a critic. The screenwriters almost dare the audience to critique the film by having characters make quips about literary criticism.
Unfortunately, the execution of the film is flawed. The tone is disjointed and the anachronistic dialogue distracts from the historical look of the period film. While the screenplay does a worthy job of alluding to famous Poe imagery, the film is not resolved as to whether it wants to be a macabre suspense thriller or a dark comedy that happens to have thrills and gore. Once the movie ends, the end credits begin with blaring modern music and angular graphics that are more reminiscent of "True Blood" than a Victorian-era thriller.
John Cusack is entertaining as Edgar Allen Poe but his wacky characterization veers more toward raving buffoon than brooding intellectual. The beautiful Alice Eve neither excites nor inspires empathy as the love interest, Emily, and their chemistry fizzles. Brendan Gleeson is solid as Emily’s father and Luke Evans gives a noteworthy performance as Detective Fields.
One blaring flaw in the film is a fault in editing - we never actually see Emily kidnapped. When the villain arrives at the party and wreaks havoc, we jump from her and Poe holding hands in the crowd to a scene where the characters discuss her disappearance. How is the audience supposed to feel a rush of panic with Poe if we never actually see the moment that drives the rest of the film's action?
Regardless of any inconsistencies, the movie is entertaining and suspenseful. The relationship between Poe and the villain could have been compelling due to the parallel between the man/bird relationship in Poe's famous poem: Poe is tormented with self-torture as he searches for his beloved while an unreasonable creature torments him with constant refrains of murder and hopelessness. If you’re a fan of Poe, gore or if you’re a fan of historical dramas, you will be sure to find elements in this film to satisfy your tastes.
The Raven is directed by James McTeigue and stars John Cusack, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson and Luke Evans. Run time is a reasonable 1 hour 50 minutes.
*Unpublished movie review from a few months ago