The Raven (2012)
(15) Running time: 111 minutes
Director: James McTeigue
Writers: Ben Livingston, Hannah Shakespeare
Starring: John Cusack, Alice Eve, Luke Evans, Brendan Gleeson
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
Director James McTeigue (V For Vendetta) presents us with a film which looks at the final days of Edgar Allan Poe’s life. McTeigue creates an almost Se7en like murder mystery, with a killer playing games with the local police and Poe himself, by leaving clues at the scenes of his crimes. The clues lead to Poe’s writings, and it would seem that the killer is working his way through Poe’s works, like The Pit and the Pendulum and The Masque of the Red Death, in order to kill his victims in increasingly more gruesome ways. When Poe’s girlfriend Emily (Alice Eve) is kidnapped by the killer and buried alive, Poe and the police are given specific instructions: Poe must write a story for his newspaper everyday based on the killings, or his girlfriend will not survive.
The plot here has been done over and over again, but when you throw in an iconic character like Poe, it gives the whole story an added sense of authenticity. The setting here is wonderful, with the year 1849 (the year of Poe’s death) realised brilliantly, Hell, you can almost smell the atmosphere of the Baltimore streets and houses. The story moves along at a speedy pace, with the odd moment of violence, adding some real bite. There is a scene straight out of Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum which is very hard to watch, and the effects team have done a superb job in putting it together. Poe himself is regarded as one of the founders of science fiction, and so basing a film on his last few days was guaranteed to cause a bit of a stir amongst his fans. Personally, I know of his work, however have never read anything, but my understanding is he was a very disturbed individual who walked the darker side of life. He also had a drinking problem, and never made much money from his work, sadly becoming more famous after his death. Could John Cusack do this character justice?
Well, I must say the very first scene involving Poe in a bar trying to get a drink very nearly put me off. Cusack is a fine actor, but here in the first scene we are introduced to Poe, he would appear to overdo it, and the whole scene is far too silly and comical, almost embarrassing. However, Cusack does improve as the film moves forward and becomes increasingly darker, but it is very hard to get past the fact it is John Cusack. He has his moments, and he really engulfs the character with scenes that could be deemed either over enthusiastic or simply over acting. Whichever way you see it, Cusack delivers most of the time. The rest of the cast are superb, with Brendan Gleeson stealing the show (as always) as Emily’s over protective Father. He is not happy she is seeing Poe, and tries to split them up every chance he gets. It is his big party which leads to Emily’s capture in one of the standout scenes of the films: knowing the killer plans to strike, Poe and the police are all at the party as a mysterious man approaches on horseback dressed as a skeleton. It is a scene that would sit perfectly in any horror movie. The head of the investigation, Detective Emmett Fields is wonderfully played by Luke Evans, and his character is the perfect opposite to Cusack’s usual over acting and often silly behaviour. Fields is a man on a mission, and very very serious!
The Raven borders on horror, while masterfully mixing in an authentic old fashioned murder mystery. It never gets boring, and even though it is hard to believe in Cusack as Poe, he does make his scenes highly enjoyable to watch. Cusack has always been a magnetic actor, and here he continues with his unique characterisation; however I fear this may be for Cusack fans only. McTeigue’s direction is tight, and he delves into horror a number of times and proves he is well skilled at the genre. A chase through some underground tunnels is magnificent to watch, and the killer himself looks like a vicious Vampire like character: always watching, waiting, and hiding at his murder scenes with his long black cloak and top hat. Another superb chase through some misty woods brings back memories of some of Hammer’s classic horrors, and while The Raven may not be gruesome enough for today’s Saw crowd, those who love the horrors of old may find a lot to enjoy here.
With the current popularity of old style horrors and mystery’s, with films like The Woman in Black, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark and The Awakening all tapping into the horror genre of old, The Raven continues this move back in time. On face value, the film is actually quite refreshing, with a good murder mystery told around a proper old style setting, with well designed outfits, some brilliant locations and a real authentic taste to it. It doesn’t try to be too big or too clever for its own good, and I feel had McTeigue either pushed further into the realms of violence, or made the plot too confusing, people would have been put off. Instead, he presents us with a fairly basic whodunit which is a very easy watch, and reminds us why we don’t always need big budget special effects, brutal violence or even some kind of moral message to please the do-gooders. The Raven is a stripped down, back to basics mystery thriller, and sometimes it is nice just to sit back and watch something which allows you in and doesn’t try to treat you like an idiot. This is simple stuff, flawed in many places, and is certainly not based on fact, but it passes two hours rather nicely.