The clear poison of The Raven

The Raven is a macabre adventure that isn’t quite sure what to do with itself.

The film tells the story of Edgar Allan Poe’s final days, which are spent, in this alternate timeline, searching for a serial killer on the streets of Baltimore. This isn’t a spoiler. The opening scenes of the film depict Poe’s death, and the film then is told in flashback. Clearly, there is no intent here for any sequels.

When murders start to be committed in Baltimore which reflect those in Poe’s stories, the famous poet, who has only just returned to town to collect his lover and return to Paris, gets called in to help with the investigation.

Before long, the crazed fan kidnaps Poe’s lover – now fiancé – and threatens to kill her if Poe does not give the killer a good chase. This personal involvement gives the film its dire urgency.

Cusack’s Poe is arrogant, overly excitable, mean, and difficult to like or relate to at the beginning of the film. By contrast, when this Poe is with his lady, he is surprisingly touching, and when he discovers the murders in his name, he suddenly becomes a very subdued man.

This is perhaps explained by a sobering up of sorts, although it is not depicted well in the film. The part allows the talented Cusack to display his dramatic range – though in a few scenes he hits his limit for the ability to express indignant, drunken rage – the transitions do not make much sense, and their nonsensicality is very little explained. We don’t even get a plot device, like opiates or mental illness – which would have been easy, being that they were likely both true – to explain the mood shifts.

The issue mostly comes from the film’s pace. The opening scenes move a bit too fast, leaving little room for more than base exposition, which then leaves the characters under developed throughout the entire movie. This is not helped by the occasional melodrama in character interactions. At times when they should be calm and considering, they start yelling or moving frenetically for no reason at all. The pace also leaves the clues under explained, or perhaps just rushed a bit, as most of the clues which lead the characters from scene to scene make little sense.

Why so rushed and compacted? It seems like the filmmakers here have tried too hard to make this film too many different things. There are elements here of an alternate history drama for Poe fans, a Victorian era murder mystery, and a horror/thriller film. At some moments it also seems like there is a slasher film inside, trying to get out, though it never quite manifests. The film would have been better off, and easier to pace, if one or two of these goals had been picked to focus on. Instead, the production is pulled in too many directions, and thus gets very little traction before the rapidly arriving conclusion.

Despite this issue, the performers are all near the top of their game. Alice Eve doesn’t have all that much to do other than kiss Cusack and scream a lot, but Luke Evans as the Baltimore detective delivers something compelling in a character I wouldn’t mind seeing more of.

Overall, with the directionless plot, the lack of any real puzzle, and an oddly disconnected protagonist, I would suggest waiting for the home video to check this one out, unlike the Sherlock Holmes films to which this iteration seemed a response; there is no compelling reason to see this one on the big screen.

The Raven is in theaters now.