Capsule Movie Review – The Raven (2012)
by HELEN GEIB
Edgar Allan Poe died in Baltimore in 1849. Cause of death: unknown. He had been found on the streets, near death and delirious.
Those are the biographical facts. It’s also the gist of the introductory title card of The Raven, a thriller set in the penurious genius’ obscure last days. When I saw the trailer I feared the dreaded “mystery appropriating a dead celebrity” (Eleanor Roosevelt, Super Sleuth! Jane Austen, Lady Detective!). It is partly that, but the greater part is literary game. The story conceit is that Edgar Allan Poe is forced to act in the guise of a character in his own stories by a madman who enacts the fictional killings with unlucky bystanders cast as victims. The script safely assumes* a basic audience familiarity with Poe and his work, contenting itself with a concise character introduction and name-checking the famous stories- The Cask of Amontillado, The Masque of the Red Death, The Tell-Tale Heart et al.- as a memory jog for those who’ve been out of school long enough to need the reminder. However, the more you know, the more entertaining the film. Playing out on the surface as a fairly ordinary serial killer mystery with a literary-horror veneer, it’s more rewarding taken as homage. John Cusack is well-cast as Poe and the supporting cast is mostly fine, led by Luke Evans as the methodical, sensible Baltimore detective in charge of the case- an implicit connection with Poe’s groundbreaking detective fiction. The notable and significant exception is Alice Eve as Poe’s beloved, a character as much a fiction as the killer who forces the author’s participation in his twisted scheme by using her as bait. Eve’s performance and the love affair that provides Poe’s motivation are wholly unconvincing.
One thing I liked and one thing I didn’t like: I don’t know if sailors waiting to ship out really made a little extra money working as stagehands in “the backstage rigging,” but I love the idea. Eve’s reading of “Annabel Lee”.
*Thanks no doubt in large part to their brevity, his poems and stories are a staple of those anthologies assigned in high school English classes.