The Raven Doesn’t Suck

Edgar Allan PoePreviously, I made a bit of fun of the new film The Raven. And I didn’t follow through on my promise to be the first person in line on opening day. It got away from me; it wasn’t exactly well publicized. But I saw it today.

First the bad news: my reading of the film based upon its trailer was totally wrong. The idea is that this film takes place in the few days before his death on 7 October 1849. His wife died two years earlier (this is briefly mentioned, but if you didn’t know anything about his life, you would have missed it). He is in love with another young woman. His wife was 13 years younger and the actor playing Emily (Alice Eve) is 15 years younger than John Cusack. So that all works. Another criticism of the trailer was that the works Poe is most known for were written in the couple of years before his death. But given I was wrong about the time of the film, this is all perfectly fine.

Last the good news: The Raven is surprisingly good.

The Raven is getting mostly bad reviews and it hasn’t been all that successful commercially. And I can see why! The Raven doesn’t suck. The screenwriters, Ben Livingston & Hannah Shakespeare, clearly know Poe well. It isn’t just all the references to his work, either. It is that the serial killer’s notes sound just like Poe’s horror fiction.

One great surprise is that Poe does not get the Sherlock Holmes treatment: he is not an action superhero. There is one scene where he tries to follow the murderer over the swinging walkway over a theater, but even in this scene he falls and drops his gun. What’s more, the denouement[1] depends entirely on Poe as a writer. How about that? Screenwriters actually honoring their subject!

Making this film was a brave act, because I’m sure I was not the only Poe fan watching it. I was just waiting for the film to get something really wrong. And it was flawless. Of course, others probably don’t like it that Poe dies at the end of the film.

This is not to say that the film was great. It’s an entertainment. James McTeigue directed it, and it is certainly as good as his V for Vendetta. But the whole serial killer thing has so much baggage that there is no way it couldn’t clutter up the film. The script has problems too. The opening of Poe in a bar trying to get respect is tone deaf. The behavior of the killer is often ridiculous. And the film takes what would have been a really good (unsettling) ending and makes it pat.

Otherwise: not bad. I thought the film was a bit dark (I worry what it will look like on video). But there’s no doubt that Danny Ruhlmann set the right mood. This was helped with the post-production sound, which interacted effectively with the music. John Cusack was about as good as you could expect. Alice Eve seemed quite good, but it could be just that I think she’s so lovely. And it is a thoroughly professional film, of course.

You are far better off seeing The Raven than Marvel’s The Avengers. But best of all would be to go straight to the master:

[1] For fans of Adaptation, that’s de-nu’-ment if you’re Donald and de’-nu-ma if you’re Charlie.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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