Today: February 22, 2024

The Raven

Not quite Edgar Allan, certainly Poe-faced.

Not quite Edgar Allan, certainly Poe-faced.

Hollywood is
currently on a splurge of taking historical figures, fictional or real, and
warping them into something more marketable. So we’re getting Hansel
And Gretel Witch Hunters
, we’ve had Abraham
Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
(seeing a theme yet?) and here we have Edgar Allan Poe, the revered gothic
writer of the poem The Raven, hunting serial killers. After a brief dalliance with board games -the less said
about Battleship the better- mainstream filmmakers seem to be looking at more
rounded individuals to flesh out a story.
For the most part this is a positive step, in the case of The Raven it
doesn’t quite work.

Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack) is a bit of a boozing writer,
living off his reputation rather than blazing a trail with new innovative
tales. Meeting in secret with his
love Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve)
seems to be a chance of redemption for the creative block he’s facing. But her father Captain Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson) would sooner shoot Poe
than see him with his daughter.
However, when a serial killer starts offing people according to Poe’s
gothic stories, Detective Fields (Luke
Evans
) turns to Poe for help in catching the killer. To make matters worse the killer has
targeted Emily, all in an effort to lure Poe into his deadly game.

On paper The
Raven should work. It’s a story
based around the wonderfully macabre writings of one of the greatest gothic
writers of all time. A period Se7en or attempted From Hell re-boot if you will. The ingredients are all there; the grim turn of the century
Boston setting, the grizzly murders and the cat and mouse game between hunter
and prey. Alas it fails to hit any
of the marks you hope for from a film of this nature.

Where there
should be a constant smog of dry ice we get occasional wisps, where there
should be thrilling chases through eerie locations we get pedestrian
investigations and when there is a hint of gore, a quite gruesome reenactment
of The Pit And The Pendulum, it was only ever to have a token death rather than
a sign of things to come.

Director James McTeigue, who has a something of
a hit or flop success rate with films such as V For Vendetta and the sewage for the eyes that was Ninja Assassin, has missed the point of
The Raven entirely. It should be
atmospheric, dripping in gothic imagery of gargoyles, murky woods and sinister
characters. Instead it feels like
a television movie, the characters plucked from one of the BBC’s countless
costume dramas.

What frustrates
the most is there is a hint, in the first act, of an interesting film mainly focused
around Poe’s relationship with the feisty Emily. He’s happy to rub everyone else up the wrong way, but her
sexual power over him makes for a clever juxtaposition. Unfortunately this is fleeting as poor
old Alice Eve then spends the remainder of the film in a coffin, Ryan Reynolds in Buried style. Annoyingly
much of the best visuals and gothic aspects of the film come from Eve being
trapped in the box, but it’s only ever seen in fleeting sub-plot moments.

The performances
do pretty much what you’d expect.
Cusack has fallen far from his 80s and 90s heyday. Here he plays Poe with a certain
arrogant charm but you long for some of his trademark cocky insecurity. Luke Evans does a fair job with a part
that frankly could have been played by anyone, such is the generic way it is
written. Only Alice Eve comes out
with any real pride. An actress
who has promised much but never made good role choices this demonstrates that
she has a luminous screen presence and, while asked to play the damsel in
distress, often shows more back-bone than the characters trying to save
her.

Edgar Allan Poe’s
poem The Raven opens with the line “Once upon a midnight dreary” and it is
unfortunate the film chooses to focus on the ‘dreary’ bit rather than anything
else.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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