Historical dramas and murder-mystery thrillers set in eras gone by are not quite as popular as they used to be. With audiences these days opting for the kind of effects-driven, bubblegum-pop films that are constantly pumped out, The Raven is then quite an unusual outing. As a murder-mystery thriller it delivers with its lure of a dark story, a plot that keeps you intrigued and grisly horror to keep you biting your nails in anticipation of what might happen next.
It follows the last days, in 1849, of author and critic Edgar Allen Poe and his desperate attempt to find a ruthless murderer, whose gruesome handiwork is inspired by Poe’s own sinister stories. John Cusack is a bit of inspired casting as Poe, imbuing him with a delightfully self-righteous arrogance and roguish romanticism which amusingly brings to mind his character Rob Gordon in High Fidelity, but set 150 years ago. Poe’s last days were, in fact, a mystery in themselves and this fictionalised account serves to highlight the inscrutability that clung to this great writer.
It is a good script, with a contemporary flavour, which keeps the film from feeling too weighty – further helped by an injection of playful and witty humour. It is the romantic subplot, however, that really drives the story as Poe battles to save the woman he loves from a madman inspired by his own work. Considering that Poe lived and wrote during the romantic era, it is quite fitting.
The acting does tend to swerve into melodrama on occasion, with the actors shouting at each other more than anything else, and takes away some of the film’s intensity; but the actors at least all stick to their characters even if they are somewhat simply delineated.
The conclusion feels a bit forced and is quite anti-climactic. As such it contributes to the film’s failure to make enough of an impact to hail a return of the genre. It does, however, entail most of the genre requisites and therefore still fits neatly into the existing canon of murder-mystery films.