“We aren’t in an information age, we are in an entertainment age.” - Tony Robbins
Last Sunday we watched the 2012 James McTeigue film “The Raven” starring John Cusack, Alice Eve, and Luke Evans. This is another of these films that have proliferated in the last few years, where fact and fiction are blended into an unrecognisable glop. It is the sticky mess of a parallel universe where President Lincoln becomes a vampire hunter and where Edgar Allan Poe becomes an assistant to a police inspector who tries to catch a mass murderer. The film is theoretically a murder-mystery story inspired by the writings and life of Edgar Allan Poe. The screenwriters Hannah Shakespeare and Ben Livingston really go to town with this simple premise and construct a whimsy of a tale that brings in bits and pieces (including a ripped out tongue – sorry, bad pun) of some tales of Poe.
The plot is set in the mid-1800s and centres on Edgar Allan Poe (Cusack). A serial killer is on the loose, murdering people using Poe’s descriptions from his published stories and poems. Poe teams up with Detective Fields, a Baltimore policeman (Evans), to try and catch the killer by using his knowledge of the stories – he wrote them after all. Even though the stories are fictional, they start to become reality and the killer is always a step ahead of them. The events take on a personal note as Poe’s lover (Eve) becomes a target of the murderer. The plot attempts to demonstrate how Poe met his unexplained death.
On October 3, 1849, Poe was found on the streets of Baltimore delirious, “in great distress, and... in need of immediate assistance”, according to the man who found him, Joseph W. Walker. He was taken to the Washington Medical College, where he died on Sunday, October 7, 1849, at 5:00 in the morning. Poe was never coherent long enough to explain how he came to be in his dire condition, and, oddly, was wearing clothes that were not his own. Poe is said to have repeatedly called out the name “Reynolds” on the night before his death, though it is unclear to whom he was referring. All medical records, including his death certificate, have been lost. Newspapers at the time reported Poe’s death as “congestion of the brain” or “cerebral inflammation”, common euphemisms for deaths from disreputable causes such as alcoholism. The actual cause of death remains a mystery. Speculation has included delirium tremens, heart disease, epilepsy, syphilis, meningeal inflammation, cholera and rabies. One theory, dating from 1872, indicates that cooping – in which unwilling citizens who were forced to vote for a particular candidate were occasionally killed – was the cause of Poe’s death.
The movie was average and trod on territory that was already much trodden on. It was quite uninspiring really, and the innovation was clumsily balanced on the Edgar Allan Poe connection. The Poe stories are used as a bit of pepper to season the unpalatable fare and it seems that the emphasis that the director wants to place on the genre of movie he is making is quite unclear. Is it a murder mystery? Is it a horror movie? Is it a comedy/horror one? The viewer is a little confused and the basic premise begins to grate by about 30 minutes into the movie.
There are some suitably atmospheric shots and passable cinematography overall. The film was shot in Novi Sad and Belgrade in Serbia, and in Budapest, Hungary. The well-preserved old buildings in these locations give the film an “authentic feel”, but one only has to listen to the dialogue and quite a lot of the modern-day expressions and slang the actors use, and the feeling is lost. The actors play passably, but somehow they don’t seem too engaged. It’s an average performance all round and Cusack did not convince me as the troubled, driven and passionate Poe. Alice Eve who played Poe’s girlfriend was a little bit of a cut-out and the role of romantic heroine did not fit in too well into the plot. Luke Evans as Detective Fields was a little to earnest and poker-faced, trying to act in a “heroic” way, but he fumbled and stumbled and was a little ineffectual.
This was a very strange movie all told. We had to concentrate quite a bit watching it, trying to keep ourselves involved, but we went off on tangential conversations 2-3 times during its course. For a Sunday matinee at home, “it’s OK” – watch it with a few others and tell a few jokes over the popcorn while watching it and then it may be an enjoyable experience…