At least we’ve finally found a Raven more embarrassing than Lou Reed’s 2003 concept album, which infamously featured the lyrics: “These are the stories of Edgar Allan Poe/Not exactly the boy next door.”
The tumultuous life (and mysterious death) of the Gothic writer would provide more than enough inspiration for a motion picture. Indeed, freaks far and wide from Sylvester Stallone to Michael Jackson circled an Edgar Allan Poe biopic at one point or another during the past couple decades. But instead, since people in Hollywood have shitty little limited imaginations, we get stuck with The Raven, a dreary police procedural with barely a passing interest in literature that feels more like the pilot for an hour-long CBS program: CSI: Nevermore.
The gimmick here—and boy is it a howler—is that back in 1849 Baltimore there was a mad serial killer hell-bent on re-enacting all his favorite scenes from Poe’s stories. The author himself has long ago fallen into obscurity, drunkenly trying to hustle his persnickety literary criticism, inexplicably wooing Alice Eve’s age-inappropriate Emily, who proves her devotion by poorly reciting lines from “Annabel Lee” all the time. Her father (Brendan Gleeson) does not approve, at least not until that pesky, mysterious psycho starts restaging murders from the rue morgue and making nasty use of a pit and a pendulum.
Luke Evans fumbles uncomfortably with his lines as the detective who drags Poe himself into the investigation. And I’m sorry, but John Cusack was just not cut out for period pieces. Despite the silly goatee and a cape, he’s still always going to come off as a motor-mouthed middle-aged hipster. Trying in vain to mimic the steampunk insouciance Robert Downey Jr. brought to Sherlock Holmes, Cusack’s Poe is flippant, callow and never once remotely believable as an author of anything besides the actor’s own proudly illiterate Tweets.
Director James McTiegue, who was also behind the disastrous V For Vendetta, has no sense of scale. The Raven is a protracted television-sized whodunit shot in medium close-ups with a severe lack of extras. The mystery’s eventual reveal feels comically arbitrary, totally unmotivated, and just as well could have happened several reels earlier without impacting the story in the slightest.
It’s amusing to wonder what Poe the critic might have written about such dross.