In 1849, famed poet Edgar Allen Poe was found walking the streets of Baltimore in a delirious state mumbling incoherently. A few days later while in the hospital he died with the cause of death never being disclosed. For generations Poe’s mysterious death has been the ever so delicious cherry on the morbid, depressing cake of Poe’s life. He was a man who was orphaned as a toddler after his mother died of tuberculosis and his father abandoned the family a year before. Poe later went on to marry the love of his life; Virginia, his 13-year-old cousin who also succumbed to tuberculosis, coughing up so much blood while singing and playing piano one day that Poe described it as a broken blood vessel in her throat. Although his love recovered, a few years later she died, sending Poe into a state of alcoholism and erratic behavior. He was a struggling writer who could barely afford to live and had to frequently beg and borrow from others.
This man whose soul weeped tragedy used his angst to churn out brooding timeless masterpieces with a focus on death and all other grisly subjects for elementary literature classes to teach about forever. A number of speculations surrounding Poe’s death have been brought up; rabies, influenza, suicide, tuberculosis, and cooping to name a few. James McTeigue’s The Raven attempts to give an interesting spin on the cause of Poe’s death and what happened in the days prior. Although the mystery of his death is still at large, the fact that he died after being in a daze and repeating a name is just a perfect ending to an already sadly tragic life. They don’t make ‘em like Poe anymore.
The Raven follows Poe (John Cusack) in his last few days, financially struggling to make ends meet for a glass of whisky, annoyed that his publisher’s aren’t printing or paying him for his editorials, poems, and stories, and trying to court his love Emily (Alive Eve) without the knowledge of her father. Oh yeah, and trying to deal with the fact that he’s so much more awesome than everyone else because he’s Edgar Allen Poe. However, when a brutal double murder followed by a string of other murders takes place and the killer’s M.O. is identical to the murders in Poe’s work, he’s called on by detective Emmett Fields (Luke Evans) to help stop the killer before his attacks endure. Quoth The Raven nevermore… it works if you over-pronounce “endure.”
Hey Raven, see what I did there?
And that’s what leads to best thing about The Raven. The idea of this movie is fascinating; it’s original and does an interesting job of mixing fact and fiction and being an intriguing biographical film as well as a thriller. It’s no secret that Poe dies, but The Raven tells of a passionate serial killer, brutally murdering townspeople in exact accordance to scenes and excerpts in Poe’s poems and stories. While Poe isn’t a detective, the killer works in such a fanboy way that Poe, being an expert in human tragedy and slight insanity, is able to help cops get closer and closer to the killer. It’s like creating a story where Ernest Hemingway stops Mark David Chapman from killing John Lennon.
However, the story of The Raven never fully works. Cusack, who normally can melt my heart in any film just by having that awesome face and being John Cusack, just isn’t a good Poe. His portrayal of the artist is inconsistent at times and by the end of the film I wasn’t quite sure if I liked Poe or not, let alone cared about his death. At times he comes off cool, just a barely functional alcoholic who is quick witted and intelligent. Yet other times his portrayal of Poe is manically eccentric, as if Cusack graduated from theschool ofNicholas Cage acting, but that’s when he’s not being an arrogant asshole who likes the smell of his own farts. Poe seemed more like Sybil Dorsett than anything else. But it’s not just Poe; all the characters are just off. Their reactions to situations aren’t quite explained through their development and mostly everyone is just one-dimensional with barely any life and hardly any personality.
I taught John everything he knows for this role…. EVERYTHING.
I checked for the time more times in The Raven than I would if I were a watchmaker. Almost hitting the two hour mark, The Raven is slow and at times unbearably boring. As Poe keeps getting ever so close to catching the killer, the time just drags on and on and on. There’s nothing overly interesting about The Raven. It’s filmed in such dark tones and is mostly set at night with scarce lighting because of the time period. While the film’s lighting source is obviously more than the few lanterns featured in each scene, but it can be hard to tell. The look of much of the film is so dull and monotonous that it gets tiring looking at the drab screen, especially when the story is going slower than molasses. Thus the comforting glow of light becomes magnetizing, even if it is from a phone or iPod every ten minutes.
McTeigue’s direction is the most mediocre safe directing I’ve seen in a while. Although The Raven is a thriller, it doesn’t hold sense of urgency or tension of any sort. I never felt that any of the characters where truly in danger because aside from the overly dramatic music, nothing truly prompts suspense. During sequences in which a character is trapped in a coffin being buried alive, I never felt that claustrophobic anxious feeling that scenes like that usually tend to create. The characters’ reaction to their plight is subdued and dreamy and the camera’s angle gives the coffin a roomy, open feeling. At one point the camera even shows a full length, long shot of the character in the coffin. This choice of capturing the scene this way is cool aesthetically but it reveals the filming process and creates a gaping open feeling, never allowing us to feel danger for the character’s circumstance.
While the death scenes are gruesome and vivid they are also poorly shot and intercut with scenes of separate dialogue that doesn’t tie into the person’s death, jarring audiences from any feeling of panic or immersion.
“Wait, so this happened during a conversation? Who would edit like that?”
And maybe it was just me, but the reveal of the murderer was a bigger letdown than the entire film. I was more confused as to who this character was and when I saw him before than shocked. Also it’s never explained how he knew of Poe’s romance or how he quickly got back and forth to the site of the buried victim. His logic and reasoning was just ridiculous and frankly pathetic.
The Raven has potential but doesn’t apply itself. It’s that lazy kid you knew in school who was really smart but was just didn’t try and never did his work, so he failed. The Raven is a safe movie, if you want to shut your brain off and zone out to an old tale of a cat and mouse chase from a historical perspective then by all means see it. But if you expect more umph and excitement in your films, then The Raven isn’t for you. Now is a time where a story like Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter exists, in which Abraham Lincoln fights to stop the spread of Vampires who were obtaining slaves as a source of food rather than labor. You can’t expect a typical cat and mouse thriller to make an impact when stories like that are flying around. The Raven would have been better if it were a book. Oh wait…
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time fog inexplicably appears
Take a Drink: every time Detective Fields looks like he’s about to cry.
Take a Drink: every time someone unnecessarily yells at another person
Take a Drink: any time you ask yourself about John Cusack, “Is he playing Poe or Nic Cage?”
Do a Shot: every time you feel terrible for how people lived in the 1800s. Have you seen firefighting back then!?