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The Raven

UK Theatrical Review

Relativity Media; 111 Minutes

Director: James McTeigue

Written by on March 12, 2012 

After making a splash with his directorial debut, V for Vendetta,  James McTeigue‘s follow-up Ninja Assassin left much to be desired. With his third feature, The Raven he goes further in the vein of his second movie, delivering more in style than in substance.

The film is a fictional take on the last days of the iconic writer Edgar Allen Poe (John Cusack). The premise has potential, but unfortunately, it comes out unorganized and with many holes that do not fit. Cusack, although a fine actor, was the wrong choice for the role. He plays it too straight, unable to grasp the eccentricities of Poe, making for an unauthentic performance.

The skeleton of the story is the gruesome murders which are taking place, inspired by Poe’s stories. Whilst investigating the crime scene of one of these murders, a detective (Luke Evans) notices the relation between the crime and Poe’s writing, and decides to call him in. The two then proceed to work with each other throughout the film, and from here, it becomes one formulaic scene after another. The narrative structure is unorganized, even arbitrary, and none of the scenes come together cohesively.

Considering that Poe was sometimes a genuinely terrifying writer, it is a shame that the horror used here relies on nothing more than cheap scares. There are no subtle undertones and even when the character of Emily (Alice Eve) is buried alive, the claustrophobia of the situation is not nearly palpable enough. Her features also remain practically untouched throughout, looking nearly pristine despite her being several feet underground for a long time. Sadly, this was most likely the work of producers not wanting her to lose the asset of her looks.

The early scenes depict Poe getting drunk whilst wandering the dark streets of Baltimore, with an attempt at injecting some humor into his altercations at various bars. This lengthy introduction provides some backstory to his character, but it doesn’t really come into play later on.

The scenes in which Poe expresses his love to Emily are clearly intended to be poignant, but instead come off as clichéd. Her father (a typically excellent Brendan Gleeson) doesn’t want them to be together, but they continue to meet in secret anyway. However, we as the audience don’t really care either way. This romantic sub-plot is thoroughly unenticing, and in fact interferes with the tension of the more absorbing points.

In some ways, the visual style is commendable. The dark atmosphere is accentuated by the various shades of grey tinging the camera lens. However, despite the meticulous period design, the setting never really feels alive. It feels like a set rather than a world, and we are always aware of the fact that these are actors speaking scripted lines, rather than believable characters. The acting is, in general, rather uninspired and does not do much to involve you in the plot.

Bearing in mind the title, you would think that a raven in some form would play a pivotal role. It is clearly there partly because of its association with horror and partly because Poe wrote a long and famous poem called “The Raven.” However, this is the extent of its role. It is merely used as a gory prop, with no significance to the actual plot.

The film uses a good deal of blood, and there is one scene in which this comes off, as a man strapped to a table is sliced in half by a slowly descending pendulum. The way in which the huge mechanical blade creeps its way down before ripping his body in two is both visually and aurally effective. This is a genuinely tense and frightening moment. However, most of the gore is cartoony and merely perpetuates the pop-horror feel we’ve all become far too comfortable with.

Feelings of disappointment are inevitable by the finale. We expect some kind of shocking reveal, but are instead given a twist which doesn’t really hold any resonance. This underwhelming finale is representative of the whole film, with a story not nearly compelling enough for us to forgive its glaring flaws.

The Raven is currently in UK release , and will hit stateside on April 27th.


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