Film review: The RavenBy Kim Francis
March 14, 2012
No one knows what happened to Edgar Allan Poe during his final days but he was found delirious and incoherent in Baltimore - on a park bench according to The Raven - before being taken to hospital where he died.
This film speculates on how Poe came to be in this state, building a thrilling back story about a serial killer into the mystery.
Poe’s (John Cusack) livelihood has become dependent on the income he receives for the scathing reviews he writes for The Baltimore Times.
Still a genius wordsmith, his drinking habit and struggle for inspiration have combined to all but kill his literary career, and he finds himself in the local drinking den branding the clientele philistines for not recognising him or his great works.
When a mother and daughter are found dead in a locked room, Detective Emmet Fields (Luke Evans) recognises elements of the crime from Poe’s story The Murders in the Rue Morgue and becomes convinced that there is a link. He recruits Poe to help him with the investigation.
As another person is found dead in similarly gruesome circumstances, it becomes apparent that a serial killer is on the loose - a killer who promptly begins playing cat and mouse with the investigative team.
When Poe’s love Emily (Alice Eve) goes missing, it’s a race against time to trace the killer and save her life.
It’s a rare Hollywood film these days that comes from an original screenplay and doesn’t depend on a source novel, comic book or previous version for its inspiration. And The Raven is just that, although that isn’t to say it doesn’t feel derivative.
It feels in part influenced by Guy Richie’s Sherlock Holmes; specifically there are parallels between Robert Downey Jr’s incarnation of the famous fictional detective and Cusack’s Poe, who is more than a little dysfunctional and slightly unhinged.
But The Raven also feels like the murder mystery-style flicks that were prevalent through the 90s (Kiss the Girls and Copycat for example). Ultimately, it’s an olde worlde gothic serial killer thriller that marries with the likes of Saw and David Fincher’s Se7en.
John Cusack is delightfully dotty, bringing an intoxicating mix of arrogance, eccentricity and humour to Poe; his curiously polished face lending him a strange yet fitting otherworldly quality - a triumph (presumably) for Cusack’s cosmetic surgeon.
There’s plenty here that’s ridiculous - they frequently miss catching the perpetrator by inches or seconds - but it’s excusable because of the homage the film pays to the campness of Hammer horror movies (lots of swooshing dark cloaks, low key lighting and misty locations) and the injection of wry humour Cusack eases into the film.
And while the big ‘reveal’ - where we discover the identity of the murderer - is an anticlimax, Cusack’s performance, Poe’s final moments and a great supporting cast help hold our interest.