Raven, The (2012)
Directed by James McTeigue
Taking its title from Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous poem, The Raven flies into theaters this weekend with a lot of expectation baggage right off the bat; overall the film succeeds in a few areas but falls short in various others, mostly due to director James McTeigue's stodgy and stiff handling of the material.
At the start of The Raven we're reminded of the mysterious circumstances surrounding the writer's death on October 7th, 1849 (he was found deliriously roaming the streets, wearing someone else's clothes, just moments before passing), and it's these real-life mysteries as well as Poe's body of work that become thematic fodder for the story written by Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare.
Bringing the iconic Gothic writer to life is the always likable John Cusack, who must come to the aid of the Baltimore police after a series of grisly murders are committed that have striking similarities to the deaths in several of Poe's best-known tales.
Once his beloved Emily (Alice Eve) becomes a kidnapping victim of the unknown killer stalking him, Poe joins lead investigator Detective Fields (Luke Evans) in the field, and soon a dangerous game of cat and mouse is afoot with the stakes for Poe being more dramatic than he ever could have dreamt up in one of his own macabre tales.
And unfortunately, that description ends up being way sexier than anything McTeigue has cooked up for audiences with The Raven. The director, whose previous works include V for Vendetta and Ninja Assassin (two films this writer enjoyed), handles the material far too stiffly and fails to add anything interesting into the mix other than the initial premise.
Playing on the speculation surrounding Poe's death and crafting a killer that murders his victims in the style of the writer's stories are both clever twists, but sadly, there's no real development as to who the killer is, thereby making the ultimate reveal of his identity in the third act being one of the bigger "wait... who?" moments audiences have seen in quite some time.
The other issue is that Poe's work often relies on the reader's own psychological terrain as well as evoking a melancholic atmosphere that is quite difficult to reproduce on the big screen; McTeigue's handling feels disjointed from the world he's playing in. And while there are some decent twists in play within the story of The Raven, it feels like the director never fully commits to the twists, the result being that The Raven ends up feeling somewhat like a Sherlock Holmes knockoff.
And it's truly a shame that McTeigue never seems to connect with his material because The Raven does feature some great performances by both Cusack and Evans as well as supporting players Brendan Gleeson and Kevin McNally. But there's no denying The Raven is a vehicle for the always fantastic Cusack, and the actor certainly does rise to the occasion here, playing his Poe with an occasional slyness that elevates the material he's been given to work with.
The gore is adequate but nothing truly grisly enough to appease the hardened horror fans out there and may be just a little too gross for mainstream audiences. The bottom line is that The Raven is just simply not dark enough for the legions of Poe fans out there nor particularly interesting enough to keep mainstream audiences interested during the 111-minute running time.
It's truly a shame that both the director and the screenwriters end up squandering what was an interesting concept and a handful of great performances, particularly the always great Cusack, with The Raven because had all the right elements been in place, this could have been a compelling new exploration into the mysterious world of one of the most iconic writers of all time.
2 1/2 out of 5