The Raven (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

The Raven (2012)

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“Deep inside the darkness, peering,

long I sat there; watching, cringing,

questioning why I paid good money

to see this awful film.

Quoth the Danny: Because you haven't written anything in almost a month!”

-The Raven: A film review, by Jacob Anderson

Being something of a quiet and morose young man, I always had a fondness for the stories of Edgar Allen Poe.The Raven, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Cask of Amontillado; these were some of my favorite stories in those weird, formative years. As I grew older, I learned that Poe was also know for his scathing criticism of other writers of his day.

As I left The Raven, I said to my wife, “You know who would have really hated this film? Edgar Allen Poe. Hell, even that awful caricature of him in that film, if they gave him a copy of the script, he'd hate it, too. Actually, that might have made for a half-way interesting film!”

"What do you mean 'he didn't have a beard?' I watched "Iron Man" like 50 times!"

The Raven opens as Edgar Allen Poe (John Cusack) goes to Baltimore in order to find work and woo his girlfriend, Emily (Alice Eve), only to find that a serial killer is basing his murders off of Poe's short stories. After proving that he was too drunk to have committed the murder (they really play-up the “drunk” card), a hot-shot detective (Luke Evans) recruits Poe into helping him solve the crimes before too many more classic Poe stories get turned into cut-rate “Saw” deathtraps. Of course while they're tracking down the killer, Emily is kidnapped (is this really a spoiler?) and in order to get his anachronistic girlfriend back, Poe must write new murder stories using elements of the killers crimes!

Sound like an interesting story? I'll admit that basing the killings in your murder-mystery on classic literature is an interesting idea. Well, it's not a terrible idea. It's not! Just look at The Abominable Dr. Phibes! His killings were based on the seven Biblical plagues of Egypt, and that movie was actually pretty good!

Of course Phibes had Vincent Price, and John Cusack is not Vincent Price. In fact, I'm not sure who Cusack was trying to be in this picture, but maybe that's not entirely his fault. I have no doubt in my mind that the film's writers were trying to emulate the power of Robert Downy Jr.'s performance in Sherlock Holmes, and like him or love him, you have to admit that Downy is great at being a charismatic jack-ass (also see: The best part of The Avengers). There's glimmer of that in The Raven's Poe, but it never feels fully realized. The film can't decide if Poe should be a pitiable tragic character, a roguish playboy or an overly critical asshole, as his personality shifts drastically, sometimes even within the same scene.

Everyone tells me that Cusack is a hell of an actor, and since I'm not really up on his body of work, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he just did the best he could with a bad script. As for his co-stars, Luke Evans and Alice Eve, their characters feel completely hollow. They are clearly there to advance the plot, getting kidnapped or helping Poe at whatever moment will best serve the dramatic tension. They have no other defining characteristics besides “detective” or “girlfriend” and it makes for cinema as interesting to watch as it sound.

"What's my motivation again? Oh, right: hold lantern, give Cusack scenery to chew on."

Oh, and if I might have a “fan moment” here: Not only does this film conatin one of the worst readings of the titular poem that I have ever heard, it also also turned “Annabel Lee” into a love letter to Poe's girlfriend. Yes, the tragic poem about the death of his wife? Well, now it's a cheap ploy to get him laid. Seriously, it feels like the writers just picked shit from Poe's Wikipedia page at random and threw it in the mix, like a student who needs at least five reference to Poe's work to get full credit, but damned if he cares what they are or why they're important.

But hey, I've picked on the acting and writing enough, James McTeigue needs some love, too! For an action/suspense film, I had a difficult time trying to care about a single thing on screen. It's not that the film feels "detached" from the action. No, I like, for example, Steven Soderbergh's films, and many of those have a feeling of detachment to them. The difference here that that Soderbergh's films remain compelling, while The Raven just feels dead. The sets and costume design are dull. The action sequences are bland. The dialog almost feels like filler. Everything about it makes it feel like The Raven started life as TV reenactment filler for a History channel documentary on Poe. Literally every scene in this film would have been more interesting with a narrator talking over it, and often feels like that might just have been the original intention.

For once, I actually find myself agreeing with IMDB's message boards: They should have given this project to Tim Burton. Like it or hate it, at least Sleepy Hollow had a sense of style and character. Too bad McTiegue didn't draw on that for inspiration....

Promotional shots from James McTeigue's "H for Headless."

While I won't reveal the killer's actual identity, I'll warn you there will be slight ending spoilers from here on out. Skip to the picture after this one if you really don't want the killer's "diabolical scheme" revealed.

In retrospect, this should have been my first clue not to watch it.

Alright, remember how Poe had to write about the murders in the paper? Turns out that the killer is such a huge fan of Poe's fiction, he committed a series of murders and kidnappings just so he could read new Poe stories. Yes, that really was his only motivation.

But wait a second: All of his murders were based on Poe's short stories, but he forced Poe to write stories about the murders, which were already based on Poe's stories. So this guy was essentially forcing Poe to rewrite his classics just so that he had something more to read? Why not ask him to write new tales of horror? Why not come up with new murderous methods and deathtraps and have Poe write about those? Why settle for the equivalent of a literary re-mix album?

I'll tell you why: Because neither the writers nor the director had any idea of the body of Poe's work beyond whatever they dimly remember from 7th grade English and what they got off of Wikipedia. This film feels less like it was written and more like it was cribbed from some kid's book report/fan-fiction of Poe. I'd call the whole film a wasted effort if I believed there was any effort put in it to begin with. At least watching The Three Stooges, as mediocre as it was, you could feel the love the creators had for the original source material. The Raven, by comparison, gives off a feeling of indifference at best and at worst, contempt.

Special guest appearance by Darkman as "That guy from V for Vendetta!"

Okay, spoiler's are done, y'all can come back now.

Really need Edgar Allen Poe movie fix? Check out any number of Vincent Price films based on his work. Some of them might seem a bit cheesy by your oh-so-slick modern sensibilities, but they've got a hell of a lot more heart than this turd. Or check out The Black Cat, part of the Masters of Horror series, staring Jeffery "Reanimator" Combs in one of the best portrayals of Poe I've ever seen. How he wasn't McTeigue's first pick for this film, I'll never know. Hell, even that Halloween episode of The Simpsons that featured a parody of The Raven was more chilling than any moment of this snooze-fest.

Or you could write your own Poe fan-fiction. Even if Poe winds up fighting Goku for the right to marry the Sailor Scouts and save Helen Keller, at least it'd be more entertaining than this mess.

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Posted by Jacob

Comments (2) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Definitely has problems with its pace and story, but it still had me entertained especially with Cusack’s fun performance. Poor guy doesn’t really get big roles like this anymore and he definitely lives it up here. Nice review Jacob. Nothing special but not terrible.

  2. oh man. this is disappointing.

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