2011 Running time: 107 Certificate: 15 Rating: 3

Synopsis

Baltimore, 1849, and troubled author Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack) is called upon to join the hunt for a serial killer who is basing his murders on the writer's grisly tales. Challenging Poe to a game of wits, the maniac kidnaps Poe's sweetheart (Alice Eve) and leaves a fiendish trail of clues that Poe must solve or see her... nevermore. Full of macabre discoveries, distressed damsels, and beady-eyed harbingers of doom, the portents are ripe for a blood-drenched slice of American gothic from the director of V For Vendetta.

Director

  • James McTeigue

Cast

  • John Cusack

  • Alice Eve

  • Luke Evans

  • Brendan Coyle

  • Brendan Gleeson

Review

A title card explains that on October 3, 1849, literary doom-and-gloom merchant Edgar Allan Poe was found in a state of delirium on a park bench. He died four days later of causes unknown.

Although none of the explanations were particularly pleasant (tuberculosis, cholera, rabies, alcohol - take your pick), you have to admit it was a fitting end for an author whose most enduring work wallowed in murky goings-on and untimely demises.

In true Poe spirit, The Raven has fun constructing a fictitious and appropriately macabre mystery around his final days.

We meet Poe (Cusack) as a washed-up boozehound working as a critic on Baltimore newspaper, The Patriot.

But while his creative well has run dry, it's clear that Poe still has his admirers when a woman and her young daughter are found slain at a scene that exactly mirrors one concocted for his Murders In The Rue Morgue.

Soon after, a rival critic comes a cropper in the blade-swinging style of The Pit And The Pendulum.

Ruled out as too obvious (and drunk) to be the culprit, Poe is drafted in by Detective Fields (Luke Evans) to help the investigation. And not a moment too soon, as the fiend looks set to strike next at a birthday ball being thrown for Poe's fiancee Emily (Eve).

Alas, she is snatched from under their very noses. The only way to find her is to follow clues left on the killer's increasingly bloody trail... which he will only leave if Poe personally covers his exploits on the front page.

With gothic sensibility and murderous intent, the scene is set for a darkly compelling race against time.

Unfortunately, while McTeigue paints a nicely grim picture, The Raven suffers from the same lack of suspense that dogged his adaptation of Alan Moore's graphic classic V For Vendetta.

Like the Hughes Brothers' Jack The Ripper yarn From Hell (also adapted from and disowned by Moore), the film struggles to bring forth any genuine chills from the shadows.

Despite a plethora of masqued figures and eye-to-the-peephole moments, the blood-letting, while copious, rarely shocks and most of the red herrings are too small to hang on to.

And ironically, Cusack is slightly too Poe-faced for his own good. In terms of brooding and melancholia, he's got the man nailed. But when it comes to red-blooded passion, not so much.

It doesn't help character consistency when Poe's drinking is made incidental to the plot (likewise his pet raccoon - an abandoned punt at comic relief).

That said, after Clash Of The Titans, Immortals and The Three Musketeers, Evans always looks comfortable playing the historical hero and the imperilled Eve is fine, as is Brendan Gleeson - unsurprisingly - as her disapproving father.

So while it won't get you in a huge flap, The Raven will give you enough caws to stay awake upon a midnight dreary...

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