I’m going to assume by now that you’ve seen the trailer for The Raven, a film by V For Vendetta director, James McTeigue. You know the plot premise: a fictional Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack) is helping hunt down a serial murderer, who seems deeply inspired by Poe’s work. This story is told by a series of chase scenes, shootouts, and other movie clichés.
To say that the plot unfolds without originality would be a complete understatement. This is a formula movie, and a very poor one at that. The Raven displays a visual style that seems to strive for mediocrity, and only succeeds at reaching that level some of the time. The film shows very little creativity in its visual style, and sometimes it looks downright ugly.
The cinematography is as formulaic as the film’s script — every shot seems borrowed from somewhere else; every scene seems crafted around a stale idea from the past. While I expected to see a film heavy influenced by past “whodunits”, The Raven fails so completely to deliver anything original that it seems like little more than a cheap knockoff.
You’ll find some scattered bits of entertainment, particularly in the film’s murder sequences. These scenes are quite elaborate, creating a decent gory spectacle. While partially horrifying, seeing a man cut in half by a massive pendulum blade is silly enough to make one smile. It’s just the type of entertainment I was hoping for from a film featuring a fictional Edgar Allan Poe.
While the graphic sequences are just over-the-top enough to be entertaining, nothing else in the movie reaches even close to that level. A sequence in the film involving a costume ball seemed to have the potential for some entertaining visuals. Instead the audience is given something completely generic, with the only bit of entertainment coming from a cheesy muttering of the word “nevermore” by John Cusack as he swoops in to dance with his lady.
I’m well aware that John Cusack isn’t playing himself in the film, but it still seemed rather difficult to accept the character on screen as Edgar Allan Poe. This is largely due to the movie’s inconsistent tone and dialogue. While one scene will feature Cusack speaking in language befitting of the 1849 setting, the following scene will display an almost comically modernized version of similar dialogue and action.
While neither of these approaches are necessarily wrong, the inconsistency took me out of the suspension of disbelief completely. There’s just something very wrong with the tone of this film, and it becomes very hard to discern the tongue-in-cheek moments from the real drama. You could make the argument that this was a stylistic choice, but it really just comes off as sloppy.
I don’t necessarily oppose the idea of taking real historical figures and putting them in a fictional setting, but the way in which The Raven does so is quite offensive. Edgar Allan Poe is nothing more than a gimmick in the film. His works are referenced only loosely to help drive the plot forward, and the film fails to examine his life beyond the superficial.
This movie feels like an already existing script with Edgar Allan Poe added later to sell some tickets. This is the equivalent of pasting his image on a box of candy as a marketing ploy. In order to escape this image the film occasionally ties moments of Poe’s real life into the story, but only as an anecdotal aside.
Let me give you an example: Edgar Allan Poe died after being found delirious in a park, calling out what may have been a man’s name. His death remains an unexplained mystery — until now. Poe’s death is explained by this fictional story.
To me this is just a cheap way to tie Poe’s real life into the plot without taking any clever initiative whatsoever. Its offensive, despicable, and serves only as fan service for audience members who know the author’s history.
The mysterious person who leaves flowers on Poe’s grave every year will likely never surface again — if asked, I’m sure they’d cite this film as a reason for their absence. If you’re a fan of Edgar Allan Poe, you should stay as far away from this film as possible. If you’re looking for some fun, stay home and read “The Tell-Tale Heart”. The Raven is nothing more than a poorly crafted cash-in on Poe’s legacy, and you’ll find very little enjoyment in the experience.