There was great potential for an entertaining whodunit in The Raven’s plot: Edgar Allan Poe finding himself caught up in a series of brutal murders based on his stories. The casting of John Cusack was also encouraging, so as Poe fans we went along hoping for a good time.
Poe (Cusack) has returned to Baltimore broke and drunk. When a fiendish killer begins staging brutal murders torn from the pages of his tales, he is called in by Fields (Luke Evans) the chief detective on the case to consult. But things get personal when the killer kidnaps his fiancée Emily (Alice Eve).
If this all sounds familiar, well, it is. The Raven is at best an entertaining detective thriller that benefits from a period setting and using some of Poe’s grislier, more inventive murders to distract from the fact that it trots out a lot of the expected genre clichés. The script is incredibly clunky at times, while director James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) seems disappointingly incapable of conjuring a decent gothic atmosphere. Surely a story about Poe haunted by his own writing deserves to be a bit more chilling.
Luckily there is Cusack, who gives the role his all and delivers a passionate, funny, and effective performance. Poe’s egotistical but tragic, and Cusack obviously has a lot of fun sinking his teeth into the part. It’s a shame that he’s not really matched by Evans (Blitz) or Eve (She’s Out of Your League), though Brendan Gleeson lends a bit of dramatic heft as Emily’s wealthy Poe-hating father.
It’s not a disaster, and Cusack’s performance makes it worth a look for genre fans. But despite some enjoyably nasty surprises, The Raven is a missed opportunity.
An on-form Cusack, a sense of humour, and a plethora of references for Poe fans are what The Raven has going for it. But the script and direction fail to rise to the occasion.