Movie Review: “The Raven” – A Mystery Lacking Mystery

Written by Matthew da Silva May 15, 2012

James McTeigue’s “The Raven” gives us a fictional look into the final days of Edgar Allen Poe’s life, where he is called upon to solve a series of murders that bear resemblance to the dark and lurid tales of the film’s protagonist. Unlike the chilling writing that defined Poe’s trademark work, the film lacks the writing to hold true to the tales of Poe, and rather unravels into a so called “mystery-thriller” that is absent of the suspense and intrigue that defines the genre.

A Ghastly Mishap

Set in Baltimore in the year 1849, the film revolves around John Cusack’s Poe in the weeks leading up to his death, displayed as a borderline alcoholic who is equal parts witty and maniacal, continually bashing the “philistines” that plague American society before being called upon to solve the murders.

Had the script been better written, John Cusack’s serious take on the role could have been comparable to Robert Downey Jr.’s sharp and intriguing Sherlock Holmes, but the hackneyed dialogue leaves us chuckling at the absurdity of Cusack’s attempt. It was as if the director had written Poe’s role specifically for Nicolas Cage, whose humorous overacting would have at least made the film a more enjoyable comedic train wreck than sitting on the fence between suspense and silliness.

Eve’s Bored

Poe’s interest in the killings turns personal when the murderer kidnaps his love interest Emily, who plays a game of cat and mouse with Poe by sending metaphorical and literary influenced clues via written notes and murders along the way. Played by Alice Eve, the chemistry between the two is essentially nonexistent, which can be charged to Eve’s indifferent acting.

This indifference continues while she is being held captive, where her bored acting portrays her as apathetic to the gravity of her situation. The lack of depth in her acting leads to not really caring about Emily’s outcome, and leading to outright laughter at the pleas she makes with her captor. In turn, it makes the films foggy setting the spookiest aspect of the film, leagues ahead of the unimposing murderer.

A Shallow Grave

This same lack of depth is rife in all aspects of the film, from the uninterested acting to the writing that both presents everything blankly and confuses us at the same time. The scenes oftentimes doted too long on aspects of the story that had little to no importance on the plot of the film, and left out important information that would have made the film’s mystery plot intriguing.

In the mystery genre, aspects of the story are oftentimes left out on purpose to add to the level of mystery in the film, slowly revealing elements and us clues that lead to solving the case. Rather than wittingly leaving out these elements, it presents answers to these clues without any depth, and we see Poe following the blatantly obvious notes of the murderer rather than solving anything for himself. Adding to the confusion are the numerous plot holes, where suspects and clues are brought forth yet quickly forgotten and never touched upon again.

Is There Any Hope For “The Raven”?

If there is a positive aspect to the film, it’s that it at least attempts to introduce the brilliant works of Poe to people who otherwise would have had no interest by consistently quoting lines from a number of his poems and short stories along the way. Unfortunately, the muddled plot and dull mystery does not exemplify the gripping tales that he wrote in his life, and rather mocks his tragic end with an unexplained and grave decision by Poe at the end of the film. For an adaptation that does Poe’s work justice, look no further than The Simpson’s Treehouse Of Horror 1; its impeccable blend of chilling narration by James Earl Jones and early Simpsons humour will leave you laughing unnervingly, and better yet save you two hours and your cash at the movie theatre.

My Rating: 3.5/10

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