Its been ridiculously foggy around here the last few days, and rather foolishly I took a shortcut through a cemetary the other day which left me seriously creeped out as it was like being in a Hammer horror movie, and I expected Jack the Ripper or Christopher Lee to come lunging from the mists.
The new horror-thriller The Raven is similarly shrouded in fog, and does have a slightly old school vibe to proceedings.
The film is set in 1849, during the last days of the life of the writer Edgar Allen Poe (John Cusack) and finds him in Baltimore, down on his luck and staggering from bar to bar running up tabs and getting thrown out a lot.
A grisly double murder is discovered and Inspector Emmett Fields (Luke Evans) gets the feeling that the crime is familiar, and further digging reveals its a copy of an event in one of Poe’s stories. Poe is a suspect, but as another body is discovered with a taunting note and Fields recruits Poe as an advisor.
The stakes are upped when Poe’s love, Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve), is kidnapped by the killer, and that will further clues will be provided at other crime scenes to test Poe’s wits and save her. Poe and Fields begin to hunt down the killer.
The film’s far from perfect, but quite good fun. The crimes are fairly gruesome and the gore is well handled, and the foggy, gothic settings are interesting. The murder mystery is a little basic (I sussed it quite a bit before the reveal) and that’s the film’s major weakness, you feel that the plot could have done with a few more red herrings, the two that are provided fall flat- one is too obvious and the other so minor that I may have imagined the implication as I hoped it would take a new twist.
But the film is still engaging enough and is carried by a solid performance by Cusack as Poe. He gives Poe this odd mix of swaggering pride and ego which seems to be a gossamer thin mask to cover his fragile and melancholic character. Poe’s oddly charming and funny, but you fully understand why he irritates people and that he might be responsible for lots of his misfortunes.
I think Cusack’s success comes from the fact that he underplays it, there’s no campness or hamming up, even his odder traits never seem forced, it always feels natural to the character.
As the more straight-laced Fields, Luke Evans has a less showy role but I thought did quite well. He brings a kind of clever toughness to the part. Evans is charismatic enough and I liked the suggestion that Fields’ own past was a little murky as well. I can definitely see Evans building from this and could be a good leading man in thrillers and the like.
I’m a little reluctant to big him up too much as a few weeks back I rewatched Pitch Black and was reminded of how I’d thought Vin Diesel was going to be the next big thing.
I was also pleasantly surprised by Emily, the love interest who I’d feared was going to be a bit of a wet blanket but showed sparky wit, toughness and resourcefulness which made it clear why Poe would be drawn to her. Alice Eve, who I was unaware of before, is extremely charming in the role.
There’s also a good supporting role for the ever reliable Brendan Gleeson as Emily’s gruff father, who’s the kind of father-in-law anyone would dread having.
Unfortunately, as someone with next to no knowledge of Poe and his work, I did get the impression I was missing out on lots of little references and in jokes, but even with my limited awareness I found it an enjoyable thriller.
Verdict: A grisly, entertaining if a little daft and simplistic thriller. With good, solid work from all concerned, particularly Cusack who avoids overplaying it. 6/10
Any thoughts? You know what I do. BETEO