Poe Excuse

“Watch out! This pistol is loaded—with poetry!”

Here’s a list of things I’d rather experience than a second viewing of James McTeigue’s The Raven:
1) Be buried alive.
2) Get into a tedious debate about whether or not Edgar Allen Poe was an alcoholic with an internet pedant.
3) Avoid a tedious debate about whether or not Poe was an alcoholic with an internet pedant because I was murdered by an ape.
4) Watch Tim Matheson in Buried Alive II.

The movie’s premise: A serial killer is on the loose in Baltimore and, curiously, his murders are all tributes to the work of Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack). When Detective Fields (played by the Tommy Wiseau-ish Luke Evans) makes the connection, he brings in the author to shed some light on the case. Poe’s initially of little help, but when the killer targets the writer’s love interest, Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve), Poe does everything he can to save her.

The Raven is easily the worst film I’ve seen in about 15 years. Worse than The Room. Worse than The Happening. Worse than Vampires Suck. Worse than all of the Rob Zombie and Eli Roth movies I’ve ever had the misfortune of seeing. Why? Zombie and Roth, while almost uniformly awful writer-directors, do have a sense a style and visual competence, and receive bonus points for contributing memorable trailers to Grindhouse. The Room and The Happening at least had the good sense to be laughable. As for that vampire spoof, I could at least figure out what was going on.

See, McTeigue consistently fails to tell a story at any time in the movie. The film is so haphazardly edited that whole scenes appear to be missing. For example, when the killer strikes a fancy dress party that Edgar Allan Poe’s been banned from, Poe leads his love interest away. So, the girl is safe. Nope! We awkwardly cut away to the next scene in which Poe and Fields kick themselves for having failed to protect Poe’s sweetheart.

Wait, whaaaaat?

Also, the way the film awkwardly frames chase sequences between the killer render the scenes borderline incomprehensible. The film usually has Poe chasing the killer solo, unless the killer sends one of his minions (wait, what?), suggesting that perhaps the killer is one of our heroes. However, each of these sequences has an awkward shot of Fields that seems spliced in at the last second. It’s as if the film originally ended with the tired what-if-the-cop-is-actually-the-one-that’s-crazy endings, but it tested poorly and they reshot 30 per cent of the film to make up for it. The Fields character is placed in these sequences with less grace than Raymond Burr was in the American insert footage for the original Godzilla. A later sequence in which Fields chases after the killer in an underground tunnel is never referenced by the other characters, nor does the painful fall the detective takes at the end of that scene affect the character in any way.

Regardless of whether the tampering theory of mine is true, this is still an atrocious thriller. As awful as the editing is, McTeigue must take most of the blame as director. The film’s success is depending on how John Cusack plays Poe and delivers a performance so heinous even Nicolas Cage would find embarrassing. Alternately shouting and bugging his eyes out, Cusack’s attempt at playing a colourful, but brilliant eccentric is irritating and forced. The performance is so stilted and awful that it makes one newly appreciate the subtle charms of erstwhile plank of wood, Sam Worthington.

So the producers of this film wanted to pinch some of the success of the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes? Fine, but does it have to involve Edgar Allan Poe solving mysteries? Why don’t we just go nuts if you want to play pretend? Forget the sleuth angle! What if Edgar Allan Poe was visited by ancient astronauts and went to fight aliens in the multi-disc-world known as Zaireeka? What if Edgar Allan Poe got lost in the woods and fought a bear? However, Poe loses the fight and the bear, out of Catholic guilt found only in the ursine orthodoxes, is compelled to finish Poe’s work. Except, the bear was an alcoholic, sullying Poe’s reputation by making him seem like a loathsome rummy. Oh, it all makes sense now!

Ultimately, The Raven’s just a cynical attempt to cash in on the popularity of the new Sherlock Holmes with a few Saw-inspired elements thrown in for good measure. It’s unexciting, uninteresting, illogical, incoherent and just plain boring.

One comment

Field Notes

Sex. Breakdancing. Wrestling.

10 September 2009

  1. Jedediah Baker · September 10, 2009

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. But I did say it SHORTER myself:

    “Cusack!” said I, “what’re you doing? – standing there, the scenery chewing!
    With this awful set around you – and a script that I abhor-
    And, ugh, the editing, good heavens, and just a terrible Luke Evans,
    This movie’s making me feel depression, I’ve never been more bored-
    Who green-lit this transgression? The direction is so poor.”
    See The Raven? Nevermore.