Edgar Allen Poe was one American’s most prominent writers. Famous for his Gothic-themed detective stories as well as explorations of the human psyche, his work has been a constant source of inspiration in Hollywood for decades. In The Raven, director James McTeigue explores Poe’s work from the point of view of the author in his final six days of life. Supremely aptly Poe’s death is shrouded in mystery and confusion, and The Raven uses this mystery as a central conceit in what is effectively a standard whodunit.
Edgar Allen Poe (John Cusack) is struggling to produce work that makes it into his local newspaper. Short on money and with an ever-increasing bar tab to pay off, he agrees to help police Inspector Emmett Fields (Luke Evans) investigate a series of murders that appear to be based upon his own canon of work. As the investigation draws to a close, Poe is established as a potential suspect and must find the real killer before he is found guilty of the crime.
James McTeigue’s previous work, V for Vendetta was a slick, stylish science fiction noir thriller, with great central performances and an engaging plot. It wasn’t without flaws though, and these appear to have been magnified in The Raven. Too quickly the action falls into the clichéd genre stereotypes of a murder mystery, only the clues are baffling and the payoff distinctly underwhelming. There’s no real tension throughout and despite Cusack’s best efforts, there is often very little for an audience to engage with.
Stylistically it looks the part, with everyone adorning their very best period costumes and a distinct sense of time and place. Sadly all the hard work on this front is immediately destroyed by a completely out of place rock score that is as annoying to listen to as the plot is to follow. It’s not that The Raven is complicated like Inception, or dastardly in its twists like The Sixth Sense, but it sits as a rather mundane example of the whodunit murder mystery, neither outstanding, nor terrible.