The Raven: a review

If one thinks of Edgar Allan Poe and cinema probably the first thing that springs to mind are Roger Corman’s very good but rather camp early 60s adaptations of his work. The Raven though takes a decidedly different approach, with Poe (John Cusack) as protagonist trying to solve the mystery of a killer who dispatches his victims using methods described in the authors work. That said, it is similar to the Corman movies in that like them it does feel decidedly camp, it is just a shame they could not share the same aspect of being good as well.

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Literally the first thing The Raven does is tell you Poe will die mysteriously at the end, before the film moves backwards in time to tell the story that got him there. In doing so it immediately removes the suspense as to who lives and dies, particularly problematic considering that alongside several less then gentle hints about twenty minutes in you will know exactly how it is all going to pan out. The narrative, at least until its incredibly predictable ending, is precisely what you would expect from a police procedural, failing to do anything remotely interesting with the premise. Had it actually attempted to explore the link between Poe’s dark fevered imagination and the psychopath’s horrific reality it could have been fascinating, an idea mentioned continuously by the film’s characters but one that it never actually bothers to investigate despite being seemingly purpose built to do so. Though that said, although it is not particularly interesting the plot does function to move the story along, and the film itself is also perfectly well constructed and moves at a perfectly fast pace, so that although it is nothing special it is at least watchable.

This is something that remains true in spite of numerous other problems, such as the characters proving uninteresting - even Poe who everyone in the script continuously claims to be a great tragic figure comes across as an arrogant drunk. Just as damaging is that it tries to be a dark detective thriller and fails spectacularly, for the most part feeling more akin to Midsummer Murders then the likes of Se7en. The whole thing feels so decidedly camp and silly that it is impossible to take it seriously. This is particularly true and problematic when scenes involving gruesome discoveries or violent death often involve generous quantities of digitally enhanced red special sauce, which end up with most of the audience coming down with the giggles rather than the feelings of disgust and horror one should be feeling.

Edgar Alan Poe was a brilliantly imaginative author who created incredibly tense dark tales of intelligence and depth, making the film’s lack of all these qualities all the more noticeable. Though despite that it is not terrible; it may have abundant flaws but it is fast paced, well shot for the most part and features perfectly good acting, even if characters have no room to develop. In the end it just feels decidedly bland and unappetising.

The Raven is on at York Reel Cinema. For more information visit their website

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