Yo, John Cusack. I’m really happy for you, and Imma let you finish. But Vincent Price had one of the best Raven movies of all time!
Directed by: James McTeigue
Stars: John Cusack, Alice Eve, and Luke Evans
MPAA Rating: R
Edgar Allen Poe is one of the horror genre’s most celebrated figures. With the legendary status of his literary works and the troubled, often tragic, nature of his brief existence, he has become ingrained into popular culture and into the public consciousness. Not only has his work been frequently adapted to film, but the man himself has been given life at times by various actors. The latest attempt comes in the form of THE RAVEN. Can this film bring new life to a literary great and expand on his legacy?
THE RAVEN finds Mr. Edgar Allen Poe towards the end of his days: nearly broke, regularly inebriated, and ready to wed a new sweetheart. His life is turned asunder when a serial killer begins taking lives in accordance with the victims in the writer’s fictional stories. Poe teams up with the local police, most notably a young detective, to stop the madman, especially when he targets the woman most dear to him.
The conceit of using Poe as the inspiration for the murders and the man who must stop them is an intriguing one. However, that is as clever as it gets. The whodunit murder mystery that unfolds is extremely generic. Every single story beat is obvious and predictable; every character is stereotypical and cliché. The result is a boring mess of a movie, whose only occasional bright spots come from the moments of unintentional humor that are sprinkled throughout the film.
Much of that unfortunate hilarity comes from John Cusack’s performance as Poe. Cusack opts for lots of yelling and overacting instead of any sort of subtlety or character work. It might have worked if the film was campy or revelled in the more preposterous aspects of the plot, but the dull and all-too-serious tone of the film makes him laughable. The other actors mostly fare a little better, but not by much.
The script from Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare is one-note and forgettable. It has an unfortunate tendency to treat the audience like simpletons, with constant references to Edgar Allen Poe himself, his drinking addiction, and his status as a writer. There are several references to his short story, “The Raven,” yet they forgot to make it an element of the movie itself. The directing from James McTeigue is competent. The film itself is well-made, with nice location work, set design, and period-appropriate costumes. There are occasional moments of violence and gore, and those are convincing though not particularly exciting.
That last sentiment sums up THE RAVEN pretty well. The film constantly has something happening, whether it’s the machinations of the mystery or Cusack hamming it up as Poe. But despite that, the film is still very, very boring. It’s funny when it means to be serious, and it’s tired when it means to be exciting. Skip the movie, and opt instead for reading the actual literary works that inspired the killer in the film.
THE RAVEN is now playing in theaters nationwide, and it cannot be recommended by this critic.
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