In one of the final moments of The Raven, a perplexed character says to another ‘I am sorry sir, that doesn’t make any sense’. That is precisely what you would shout at the end of the film while massaging the throbbing temples of your head.
Now there is nothing inherently wrong with mixing facts, fiction and stylized gore in pursuit of one’s own squandered thirst for the ludicrous or for the preteen demographic, but there is a problem in presenting such a film in a hall full of people above 12. The Raven is a twisted psychological horror thriller that combines the aesthetic focus of Se7en and the abhorrent mustiness of From Hell. But its only merit is that it is not quite as morally schizophrenic as the latter.
The plot is as cheesy as it can get – and presents itself right in the opening scene in big yellow text. Back in 1849 Edgar Allen Poe was found dead on a park bench, and the reason for his demise has not yet been uncovered. The Raven attempts to crack this mystery by fictionally following the last days of Poe (here played by John Cusack) as he attempts to track down a serial killer on the loose and save his love interest (Alice Eve). The killer seems to be a nineteenth century version of Kevin Spacey from Se7en, as he indulges in gruesome killings and leaves a clue with each corpse. The killer plays around with Poe, by asking him to publish stories of his glorious murders and Poe’s failures in a newspaper – some of which are unintentionally hilarious enough to make the real Poe turn in his grave.
Director James McTeigue, who last made the horrendous Ninja Assassin doesn’t much improve here – he just offers his camera a few tired faces to survey. Despite the great cast of Cusack and Brendan Gleeson, and the finely detailed makeup and sets, there is an uncomfortable horror-comedy tone that permeates through the seriousness. Cusack in particular looks completely embarrassed to be present on sets. The thrills inevitably turn into tiresome bloody frames as striking a tone between novelty and gore proves too difficult for McTeigue. Most of the runtime is paralyzed by schlocky silliness, including endless scenes of galloping horses and fog, and a clumsy rendition of ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’. And by the time you learn the identity of the killer you’re left looking at your watch and giving in to the seductive charms of the nearest exit door.
The Raven is neither superior to other serial killer potboilers, nor completely confounding or crazy enough to keep interest levels above the 15-minute mark. Poe himself would roll his eyes during the end credits and groan ‘Nevermore’.