The Raven (2012)

<strong class="MovieTitle">The Raven</strong> (2012)

(On-demand, October 2012) Paying homage to Edgar Allan Poe by turning him into an action/thriller hero has a certain allure, but it quickly leads to a number of debatable artistic choices.  The easiest way to feature elements of Poe’s oeuvre, for instance, is to adopt a structure in which Poe turns into an investigator working against… a serial killer copycatting Poe’s macabre stories.  It doesn’t help when a few of the murders are staged with an off-putting amount of elaborate gore (one of them worse than a similar scene in the Saw series).  This clash between historical verisimilitude and contemporary Hollywood storytelling shouldn’t be surprising after similarly modern takes on (say) Sherlock Holmes, but it does reinforce the contrived nature of The Raven.  John Cusack lends a considerable amount of cool to the character of Poe, his performance giving an unqualified boost to the film even at it takes it further into historical inaccuracy. (For the nadir, wait until the antagonist predicts the existence of horror movies.) The cinematography, costuming and other period details all have their moments, presenting a bustling version of mid-nineteenth-century Baltimore with a welcome amount of spooky atmosphere.  The ending is just as unsatisfying as the opening text foretells, although it does dovetail clumsily with the commonly-accepted facts of Poe’s last days.  What’s more damaging, alas, is the sense of déjà-vu that comes to dominate The Raven: We know how it’s going to go, not because we know about Poe, but because we’ve seen enough serial killer movies already.  While Poe living today may very well have written gore-filled murder mysteries, one suspects that he wouldn’t be satisfied just following genre conventions.

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