John Cusack stars as renowned American author Edgar Allan Poe in James McTeigue’s The Raven (2011) – a pulpy Gothic thriller built upon the foundations of a period detective story. Ostensibly attempting to create a fictionalised account of Edgar Allan Poe’s final days (before he was found dead on a park bench), we’re first introduced to our dishevelled protagonist as he trawls the bars of Baltimore looking for alcohol to quench his artistic frustrations.
However, the American writer finds a new muse (albeit an unwelcome one) in a madman who begins committing grotesque murders inspired by Poe’s earlier stories. Poe is hired for his unique perspective on these murders, yet his involvement in this horrific case becomes more elaborate when his fiancée (Alice Eve) is kidnapped, creating a cat and mouse dynamic between this copy-cat murderer and his literary inspiration – with these calculated homicides thrusting Poe’s prose back into the public conscious.
Using America’s earliest practitioner of the detective story as the protagonist in which to create a macabre thriller, McTeigue has identified an interesting narrative idea but diluted it with an intrinsically dull and uninteresting script unworthy of this enigmatic word-smith. Indeed it is sadly McTeigue, rather than Poe who is the author of this lacklustre drama, failing to capture the palpable atmosphere of dread that made such tales as the film’s titular poem and The Tell-Tale Heart such gripping pieces of work.
The incredibly pedestrian nature of The Raven lies in its misguided cat-and-mouse tale, which attempts to draw the audience into the film’s tense, unravelling narrative. Despite peeling away the layers of this mysterious madman’s plans, the clues that are discovered are far too outlandish and impermeable for the audience to even attempt to guess the identity of their creator, turning the events that unfold into an increasing infuriating collection of tedious reveals. However, the biggest crime here is the use of John Cusack, with McTeigue stripping away the actor’s usual charisma and replacing it with a cold and hackneyed stereotypical perceptive of a ‘tortured artist’ – a hideous misstep.
A serial killer movie dressed in period attire – not dissimilar to the Hughes brothers’ dire From Hell (2001), The Raven attempts to embellish it’s incoherent narrative with some deeply unnecessary attempts at social criticism, primarily a profoundly unsubtly stab at the media’s hunger for sensationalism. Lacking any semblance of peril or the literary nuances it’s attempting to cash in on, The Raven is ultimately a tame and monotonous rehash of familiar contemporary Gothic techniques which underuses both its enticing premise and its lead actor.