With its nicely brooding atmosphere and a characteristically lively central performance from John Cusack, The Raven is something of a small gem. It’s clunkily directed by James McTeigue and the serial killer plot doesn’t really make any sense, but it goes about its ghoulish business with an admirable determination and persuasiveness.
The central conceit is based on a crumb of historical truth: that Edgar Allen Poe was found dying in Baltimore in October 1849, and that his whereabouts prior to his death remained a mystery. On to this has been grafted a gruesome kidnapping plot that feels like reheated leftovers from the 1990s serial killer fad spawned by The Silence of the Lambs and Seven. A murderer is on the loose in the city, recreating deaths from Poe’s literary works. When the author’s secret fiancée Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve) is abducted and buried alive inside a coffin, the mastermind insists that Poe prints his thoughts and private anguish in the local paper until she is found.
McTeigue is a workmanlike director who has a knack for picking interesting material (see V for Vendetta). He gives us the dank streets and foggy forests that are par for the course – the gaslit gloom of Baltimore provides plenty of shadows for something to lurk in – but he also delivers a satisfying amount of suspense, along with a side order of bloody shocks, on the way to an unsurprising ending. It feels faintly reminiscent of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, which for me is a good thing.
Cusack is always a welcome presence and his caustic interpretation of Poe feels just right for this tale. The strong supporting cast, including Luke Evans as a detective assisting Poe, Brendan Gleeson and Pam Ferris as Emily’s parents and Kevin McNally as Poe’s publisher, are equally good. If you’re in the mood for some gothic gloom and doom, this might well fit the bill.