Think Edgar Allan Poe – Dark stories. Weird stories. Horror not so much of the gritty bloodthirsty kind, but torments driving people to hellish madness. These are the Gothic veins that The Raven, directed by James McTeigue, tries and on a few levels succeeds in tapping into.
Basically, a serial killer in 1849 Boston is imitating the murders from the literary works of Edgar Allan Poe and Poe himself (John Cusack) is called in to assist in the investigation. Poe’s typical horror sets a nicely dark foundation for then another level of intrigue where Poe’s fiancée is kidnapped by the killer, and he must then unravel the series of clues left at each murder in order to save her.
The Raven is a hands down brilliant concept for a movie. It’s an American Gothic horror that lets us see the works of Edgar Allan Poe realised on screen without actually being a film adaptation of any of his stories. There is a great amount of famous mystery and intrigue associated with Poe’s real life death and The Raven play with that idea quite well mixing real life accounts of the real life man into this fictional representation.
I was unsure of John Cusack in the role of the famed master of the macabre. In the early parts of the film he seemed too boisterous, the character over acted. An early scene in a tavern showing Poe shouting lines of his most famous poem, ‘The Raven’ to test his own fame was somewhat annoying to watch – I can’t say if Edgar Allan Poe was really like that, and he very well might have been, but the scene sat at odds with the dark Gothic and tantalising mystery that I wanted from this film. As the seriousness of the story took hold, the more serious side of the character shone through and from there I will say Cusack did a great job.
Luke Evans (Immortals (2011); The Three Musketeers (2011)) was decent in the role of Detective Fields, one of his better performances all over, though the character didn’t really have any core strength or nuance to make him anything other than a straight forward detective. Much can be said along the same lines for every other character in the movie that wasn’t Edgar Allan Poe.
The Raven isn’t a Who Done It type of man hunt. The mystery plays out as a chase, clue after clue and without a series of suspects as we might expect from a serial killer thriller, the audience doesn’t have anything to guess about until moments before the revelation so we just have to sit back and let it happen. This isn’t a bad thing for the plot itself but given that chance to guess as a thriller progresses does help to bring a viewer into the tale. Given a bit more of this treatment might have allowed The Raven to be just that little more gripping.
The Raven is far more on the thriller end of the horror spectrum than a true a horror movie in itself, though it does have some excellent grisly scenes – the actualisation of Poe’s story ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’ was indeed quite something.
The story plays out well against nicely Gothic scenes – misty nights, old graveyards, shadowy chambers to make for a visually enjoyable film. One thing I will note though is the final credits just don’t fit. Tacked onto the end of this Gothic thriller, we have a heavily stylised digital representation of a raven flying about, all jagged and abstract to weirdly heavy electronic music. Perhaps judging a credit roll shouldn’t come into a commentary on the film, but in the very final moment a bullet fired in the film transitions into this nonsensical credit sequence. Not everyone leaves a movie as soon as the credits start to roll! Credits should be a coda to the film just experienced, but in this case it simply does not work and actually ends up detracting from the enjoyment of the previous two hours.
Overall however The Raven, while not without its flaws, is an enjoyable Gothic thriller that should please Poe fans and perhaps make some new fans along the way.