John Cusack is the kind of actor who can do it all. He’s been successful in comedies and dramas, action films and romances. He is an acting presence like Jimmy Stewart or Glenn Ford, the consummate thespian professional. His latest is the horror/thriller period piece, The Raven.
The story is of Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack), a writer of horror and suspense tales who is having a bit of a dry spell. He has had a hard life full of tragedies and tries to hide his pain in a bottle of brandy. He is also in love with Emily (Alice Eve), a woman of a higher social class. Her father Captain Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson) disapproved of Poe. The author struggles for acceptance in a world that just wants the next thrilling tale from the master of the macabre.
On the other side of the plot, there has been another murder. Detective Fields (Luke Evans) is the investigating officer. Something seems familiar about the gruesome deaths. They follow the plot of a story he had read before… a story by Edgar Allen Poe. The detective sends for Poe just as another murder has occurred. This death has been done by pendulum, yet another Poe convention. The author and the detective join forces to find the killer.
The murderer abducts Emily at a masquerade ball and demands that Poe solve the mystery of where she has been kept before she slips from this mortal coil. It becomes a race against time and madness for the two men to find the damsel in distress. The film devolves into a straight ‘find the killer’ flick that has been on the screen hundreds of times. There are little surprises here.
There are a few good things about The Raven. The sets and costumes are spot on, giving the feeling of time and place to a degree seldom seen in films. The technicians who worked on the incidentals were magical in creating the illusion. The second unit photography was stunning, with sweeping vistas of the countryside and moody, foggy city streets. It is too bad that all this work wasn’t put into a more interesting script.
The makers of this film were going for blood and achieved it in buckets. It is right bloody mess, full of splatters and mangled flesh. It is almost reminiscent of those horror flicks of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s where more crimson red, the better. At times it was disturbing to see so much carnage on the screen.
Director James McTeigue has studied his gothic horror books before making The Raven and captured every beat of the genre. He just needed a more interesting story to work with. The script by Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare feels old hat in all the worst ways. There is no spark of creativity within the confines of the work as if we have seen this all so many times before.
John Cusack does look a bit lost at times during The Raven. While he does have the fire of the author down pat, he seems lost in the silliness of the actual work. He would have been much better in a biopic of the writer, showing the tortured soul of the actual man and not the fictional play of this literary titan.
Brendan Gleeson always delivers, even with such a small part. He has gruffness down to ascience. Alice Eve was a delight in what is traditionally a very weak role, the woman in peril. She deserves a better script.
The film looks like the 1963 version of The Raven, a Roger Corman flick, which is a much better work. While not hating the movie, there is not much to recommend either. It is just another film that will be in and out of the theaters, forgotten by years end. This telling of this tale of The Raven will be “nevermore”.
THE RAVEN opens April 27, 2012