The Raven Nevermore indeed
By Jayson Burns
In 1849, poet Edgar Allen Poe was found wandering the streets of Baltimore in a state of delirium, muttering the name Reynolds and wearing clothes that weren’t his. Four days later, he died from a yet-to-be determined cause. What happened to this esteemed poet? Well if The Raven is anything to go by, it was a series of red herrings and uncomfortable acting.
A fictional account of the late writer’s last few days, The Raven takes place in 19th century Baltimore, Maryland. Edgar Allen Poe (John Cusack) is having difficulty coming up with his next piece of fiction, often resorting to alcohol to deal with his employer’s rejections. He does, however, have his lover Emily (Alice Eve) to provide him with just enough joy to get by. At the same time, however, a mysterious serial killer has begun reenacting the murders described in many of Poe’s stories. Desperate, Detective Fields (Luke Evans) drafts Poe into his band of police officers in an attempt to track the killer down. The stakes get higher when Emily herself is kidnapped by the murderer as more and more innocent people die in horrible ways.
I’ll admit the concept of an author of horror and the macabre facing the construct of his own imaginations is interesting. Unfortunately, there are a few problems that kept me from getting involved. At the beginning of the film, a title card reads the last few days of Poe’s life were a mystery, but what I don’t understand is how this is possible when he’s been in constant interaction with not only Detective Fields, but his employer (Kevin McNally), Emily’s father (Brendan Gleeson) and many others. There were also many obvious instances where the film tries to trick you into thinking one person’s the murderer, only for it to not really go anywhere. What pained me the most, however, was the final revelation where Poe finally figures everything out. This reveal is, to put it simply, weak, the kind that comes right out of nowhere in the worst way. And because of this, the killer’s motives are cheapened.
Something seemed very off about most of the acting, and not in the strange, Poe kind of way. John Cusack’s performance wasn’t necessarily bad, he had his moments, but he could get so over the top at times (especially when he was yelling). Some of the other, granted less prominent, actors did the opposite, being a little too dull. Alice Eve wasn’t very appealing to me; I don’t know if it was the writing or her acting, but I was a little freaked out when she was all but delighted to have a marriage proposal in a ballroom with a killer on the loose. Luke Evans, however, did a great job as the detective. I had expected him to play the character like the stereotypical, arrogant investigator, but he made Fields a likeably and competent hero.
There was something about the editing that put me off as well. While it wasn’t prevalent throughout, there were times where a conversation will be going on between the protagonists, only to switch suddenly to the killer activating a pendulum. There was something about the lack of transitioning that just seemed a little jarring to me. Speaking of the pendulum, that scene would’ve been far, far more effective had they used practical effects and blood instead of the obvious computer graphics. The shot of one character holding his slit throat later on was more gruesome because it looked realistic, but to the film’s credit the pendulum was the only instance where this was most obvious.
Thanks to the “startling” revelation and the overall strange presentation, I just could not bring myself to completely enjoy The Raven. While I wouldn’t flat out advise people not to see it, I think the curious would be best left to rent it. But I must admit, the last seven seconds has probably become one of my favorite endings ever.