The Raven is all about allusions to Poe’s works, and as such, it is fitting that the opening shot is of a raven minding his own business in a tree. The fog, the ravens, and the gnarled tree in the opening scene sets up a movie that very much takes a nod at other horror flicks set in the 1800s, like Sleepy Hollow and From Hell, and creates a story that is every bit as gruesome.
The Raven follows John Cusack playing the late, great, and often very drunk writer and poet Edgar Allen Poe. It’s later in Poe’s life, and if history serves you, you’ll understand late in life means troubling times for Poe. Nonetheless, the man has a covert romance going with Emily (Alice Eve), a wealthy young woman who could very well be his salvation. If only a pesky murderer didn’t get in his way.
This pesky murderer is the greatest idea The Raven has to offer. The Raven mainly follows a serial killer as he systematically recreates murders using Poe’s detailed tales as a guide. While he works, Poe and one Detective Fields (Luke Evans) are on the case to catch the killer. In the film, we are privy to murders following “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “The Cask of Amontillado,” among others. It’s the “among others” that will pose the bigger problem for casual viewers.
The idea is a great one, but the mystery will likely fall short, unless you are a great fan of Poe’s works. Like all memorable murder mysteries, the film offers clues to where the murderer is heading next. For Poe fans, this may be great fun, but for those of us who stopped reading Poe after ninth grade English, Poe is forced to tell us exactly what is going on onscreen at any given moment. Despite this, The Raven is still pleasant enough to watch, but it doesn’t have the appealing murder mystery factor that a good whodunit should have.
Because there is so much information audiences must learn through Poe directly, Cusack gets a ton of screen time in the film. It’s a big chance for Cusack to not play Cusack, and Poe is such a zany character, it’s pretty admirable. Unfortunately, the chemistry between Cusack and Luke Evans is completely missing. Because the two have such opposite temperaments, I wasn’t expecting an epic bromance, but the characters should have at least communicated a grudging respect for one another. Additionally, there would have been plenty of opportunities for director James McTeigue to introduce oddball or dark humor, but he doesn’t take them, and there is nothing to lighten the film’s dismal mood.
The Raven is unapologetically gory. Poe’s works are vivid and death-filled, and it makes sense the movie would be, as well. However, McTeigue doesn’t sugar coat the grotesque and if you aren’t into mounds of blood onscreen, this may be a film to avoid.
Stylistically, The Raven takes great care to make the film look not only true to the times (it was shot in Eastern Europe since Baltimore has gone through many architectural changes) and the writer's works. This ends up being a con. The stylistic efforts threaten the pace of the film as a whole, and even rush certain plotlines. For instance, Poe is actually a suspect at the start of the film, and it only takes the word of an old newspaperman (“I know there’s a darkness to Edgar, but the only thing he’s ever killed is a bottle of brandy.”) to totally change-up the dynamics and team up Poe and Fields. The movie needed more time to develop its characters but, at 110 minutes, it's already pretty lengthy.
It’s really difficult to watch a movie like The Raven, a film that was built on the foundation of a really original idea, but that takes one too many missteps along the way. The Raven could’ve been one of the most original movies of 2012, but, instead, it is an acceptably eerie endeavor with a few decent performances.
Unlike the film itself, the disc goes above and beyond what I expected from the set. Deleted and extended scenes actually help to flesh out Poe’s character a bit more. There’s some backstory about one of Poe’s wives and her horrible bout with tuberculosis. I also like how the scenes flesh out Poe and Detective Field’s wary relationship with one another. Poe opens up to the detective, but the detective remains very closed to Poe. More of this was needed in the film.
Despite the featurette’s extremely silly title, “The Raven Guts: Bringing Death to Life” is a great extra. The segment discusses how the horrific fictional tales were brought to life in the film. The flick tried to stay accurate to Poe and used his books and letters to create the morose and highly emotionally writer. There’s a lot of neat tidbits about the casting and the filming of the flick, and plenty of behind-the-scenes shots are used.
“The Madness, Misery, and Mystery of Edgar Allan Poe,” takes a look at Poe’s life, career, and fortune. It’s a documentary that features clips from the film, as well as quotes from the man interspersed throughout. “Behind the Beauty and the Horror” looks at the connections between the murders and Poe’s works. Like the Poe segment, it looks at the different tales brought up in the film.
Rounding out the extras is a conversation about the flick between Cusack and McTeigue, a segment on the music present in the film, and audio commentary. The Raven wasn’t the biggest blockbuster film of the summer, but I really appreciate the effort that was put into the disc. For movies that try to maintain some level of historical accuracy, it’s always better if there is information about the details used in the film or the characters that are being recreated. The disc does this swimmingly, and the movie is better served for it.