We wanted to like John Cusack's spin on Edgar Allan Poe as a sexy drunk crime-fighter. We desperately wanted this "Saw for people who've passed High School English" movie to reawaken our love for dark eyeliner and graveyard make-out sessions. Basically, we just wanted Goth back!
But instead, we got... The Raven. A pile of garbage in which a 40-year-old man goes on an adult Halloween-themed scavenger hunt, while screaming "Emily!" at the top of his lungs.
The Raven is centered around the last few days of Edgar Allan Poe's life. And as we all know, Poe died drinking poison to save his chesty girlfriend from dying of dehydration. So yeah, it's that kind of movie, but that's OK. Done well, an alternate history flick can be loads of fun — just look at Inglourious Basterds. But when the big end scene is a four-minute tight shot of John Cusack giving his best corpse face, we're not really sure what this movie was trying to accomplish. What started off as a fun look at an manic author forced to confront the bloody situations he inspired unravels quickly into a English Lit scavenger hunt hosted by an obvious (albeit completely nonsensical) killer. No one suspects the guy who has one line in every scene, that everyone ignores!
Ah well, at least Cusack gives great dead face.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves, let's start from the beginning. When we first meet the great widow's-peaked poet, he's been reduced to screaming out lines from his infamous work "The Raven" in bars for free drinks. Swollen with self importance and thirsty (so thirsty) this is probably the best part of Cusack's performance. Watching him rage on about Wordsworth, caterwauling about Emerson's stupidity and screeching at the bartender (Mr. Bates from Downton Abbey!) not to "shit himself" is hilarious. It's something we've never seen from Cusack before, and we kind of like the idea of Poe being a self righteous, but totally broke dick (plus it makes sense).
And when the liquor runs out (and we're subjected to a more sincere Poe pulling at his girlfriends breasts), so does our patience. Instead of spending time with the "godfather of goth," we're forced to watch the unholy birth of the lovechild of Saw and National Treasure, as Poe hunts down clues. By the end you'll be covered in shame and bloody CG afterbirth.
You know the drill: a serial killer reenacts Poe's stories throughout ye olde Baltimore, leaving a trail of clues and bodies in his wake. Eventually Poe's girlfriend (Emily) is kidnapped, and it's up to Poe's smarts and writing ability (no really!) to find the girl before its too late! And just like that, The Raven switches from an interesting drama about a madman's dark world, to a collection of every single horror-flick cliche ever seen in movies set before the 1900s.
There are dead bodies with lips sewn shut, a scene at an opera, and OF COURSE a grand scene at a fancy masked ball. Poe doesn't really solve many of these clues, so much as just connect the dots, but it doesn't matter. Because the big reveal is just some dude. Just some dude who really, really likes Poe's writing. By the way this message nicely ties into the film's other underlying theme that critics (the gentleman you see sliced in "The Pit and the Pendulum") fans and editors are savage morons, who should either be killed or locked away for good.
There's nothing mystical, spooky or even creepy about this movie. It's a collection of gag scares and CG-ed blood spurts. The worst being the fact that the killer actually out smarts Poe in the end, even though the lady is saved, Poe still dies. And that is that. There's no hurdle for our hero to leap, no lesson for him to learn, if anything the climax is hindered greatly by the constant writing breaks Poe has to take to appease the murderer. Oh yeah the bad guy demands that Poe write about his days following the murder trail every night, or else it's curtains for his young love. So the main character actually takes writing breaks at the end of each day! We don't even get to read what he writes.
There are no supernatural spooks or paranoia — the closest this flick gets to actually channeling the real work of the master is the fog they pump in every 20 minutes. Cusack seriously does a great job straddling the line between self-indulgent narcissist and self-destructing lunatic, but for only a few moments. We would have have loved to have seen more of that. Much more.
But most of all, this film just isn't scary. The final scene in We're Back is more spooky than this horror movie with actual dead bodies in it — plus it has birds!
Overall it was disappointing, it's been awhile since we've seen Cusack try something new. We only wish the script could have supported his characters. But instead, we got blood, bodies and boring corpse face.
Top image by RedOrbit Staff.