Friday, April 27, 2012

The Raven (2012)


Well-known writer Edgar Allan Poe is flat broke and clean out of ideas.  That is, until someone starts using his stories as inspiration for a series of grisly murders in and around Baltimore.  When Poe's beloved (and unofficially betrothed) Emily is kidnapped, he must find a way to solve the mysteries--and write about them--before she becomes the final victim.  

In case you haven't guessed, this is not a terribly original plot.  It's been done on crime dramas like Bones and Castle, and to some extent in The Bone Collector. However, this is, to my knowledge, the first time anyone has dragged Edgar Allan Poe into the mix.  Poe, years past his classics like "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Pit and the Pendulum", is clearly plagued by writer's block (at least as far as his stories go; he's clearly still able to produce criticism and some poetry).  So of course he is required by the killer to resume his gruesome tales by writing up horrifying accounts of the various copycat murders for the Baltimore Patriot. Note the hints of Misery lurking in the background.

The acting here is decent enough, though Cusack never seems to fully inhabit Poe as a character.  But then Cusack may have reached the point in his career where he is only ever seen as John Cusack, and never seen as a character (see also Tom Cruise and, for a while there, Mel Gibson).  Brendan Gleeson is quite serviceable as young Emily's gruff and (of course) disapproving father.  Speaking of young Emily, Alice Eve plays her with warmth and allure. She is fully pretty enough to make Poe's devotion believable, and, notwithstanding a terribly clunky line about how she so 'full of life' (immediately before she is kidnapped by a deranged serial killer, no less), she does seem to be a cut above the usual milquetoast damsels in these period dramas. She is also, we discover, fairly clever, decently plucky, and not squeamish.  I hope to see her in more films in the future.  Ditto Luke Evans, who I haven't seen before--he's quite good as the intelligent and hardworking Inspector Fields (even if he does look distractingly like a cross between Dominic West and Tahmoh Penikett).  The other actors--various newspaper employees and Baltimore police officers for the most part--do their jobs well enough, and fans of Downton Abbey will be delighted to see Bates on the big screen.  One more thing: while I've no wish to spoil the ending, allow me to say that the killer, once revealed, exudes 'crazed psychopathic murderer' from every pore.  I was reminded of Nick Chinlund's brilliantly chilling turn as the everlastingly creepy Donnie Pfaster on The X-Files.  The X-File-ophiles among you will undoubtedly understand what I mean.  If Donnie Pfaster and Annie Wilkes had a time-travelling baby, well, this killer could be that baby.

The script is nothing brilliant, sad to say.  Cusack has some lovely rants as the arrogant Poe who verbally eviscerates those who challenge his genius.  And the murders and clues are decently clever in their way.

[One nitpick:  After the killer has been revealed and is (of course) waxing eloquent about his own genius and brilliant plans and so on, he mentions that he is a fan of Jules Verne, who reminds him of Poe.  The implication is that he intends to repeat this scenario with Verne.  I found this idea utterly ridiculous.  Leaving aside the fact that Verne had not yet been published in 1849 (the year this story takes place), Verne is nothing like Poe in style, mood, or plot.  Then, too, Verne is best known for his fantastic stories and science fiction tales, so there is a more practical issue:  how on earth would a deranged killer reenact Verne's plots? Would he build a rocket and shoot his loved ones to the moon?  Or dig a hole to the center of the earth . . . nefariously?  It's all so very silly--far too silly to be ominous.  Granted, the average viewer may have little or no actual exposure to Verne, and may simply accept the reference at face value--he is just another 'old' writer.  Still, there had to be better options.  Hawthorne, who was on the verge of publishing The Scarlet Letter, would have been a far superior choice--he held a dim view of human nature, he favored more realistic plotlines, and many of his short stories clearly belong in the horror genre.  And unlike Verne, he lived right up the road in Massachusetts.]

Bottom line:  If you tend to go for serial killer flicks, you'll probably like this one fine. It's nothing groundbreaking, to be sure, but it's certainly not the worst serial killer movie out there, and it's certainly not the worst movie John Cusack has made.

A note to the squeamish viewer:  This film has some extremely gory scenes. Unnecessarily gory, to my mind, particularly in light of Poe's fondness for psychological horror over mere mundane violence.  If you, like me, are not overfond of graphic violence, you may want to steer clear of this particular film.  Or bring a more strong-stomached buddy who will endure the bloodier scenes while you cower behind your own hand, and who will tell you when it is once again safe to look.

1 comment:

Dan O. said...

Despite a handful of narrative missteps and a few errant accents, it's actually a pretty neat "what if?" story. Although I can definitely see it's not for everyone to sit and enjoy. Cusack was also pretty good and definitely lifted up this material. Nice review Alexis.