The Raven
dir James McTeigue
scr Ben Livingston, Hannah Shakespeare
prd Marc D Evans, Trevor Macy, Aaron Ryder
with John Cusack, Alice Eve, Luke Evans, Brendan Gleeson, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Brendan Coyle, Pam Ferris, Sam Hazeldine, Kevin McNally, Dave Legeno, Jimmy Yuill, M Emmett Walsh
release UK 9.Mar.12, US 27.Apr.12
12/UK 1h51
The Raven
Another grisly mess: Evans and Cusack

eve gleeson jackson-cohen
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Raven An acerbic sense of humour and a gleefully grisly production style make this gothic thriller good fun to watch. It may be rather preposterous, but it's also a grippingly complex mystery populated by some terrific actors.

In the weeks before his inexplicable death in 1849, author Edgar Allan Poe (Cusack) finds himself at the centre of a series of murders in which a killer is recreating his stories in grotesque scenarios around Baltimore. Detective Fields (Evans) asks Edgar to help with the case, but he's distracted by his girlfriend Emily (Eve), whose harsh father (Gleeson) refuses to allow the couple to marry. As the murders get increasingly personal for Edgar, he realises that his own fate is entwined with the fiendishly clever killer, whoever he may be.

The film opens with a note about how Poe's final days are shrouded in mystery, then proceeds to tell a story that's about as public as it can be, as the events play out in Baltimore's newspapers and among the city's chattering classes. In other words, everything's so fictionalised that the fact that the central character is Poe is almost irrelevant. Not that this really matters, when the filmmakers work so diligently to gleefully gross us out.

Each murderous scenario is more grisly than the last, and Cusack is terrific as a guy horrified that his own imagination is being used in such a ghastly way. But the filmmakers are having so much fun with the energetic action that they never bother to explore the intriguing issue of a horror writer's creative process. Instead, the film's a series of set pieces involving confusing attacks and chases souped up with period detail.

Thankfully, the actors have plenty of space to add sardonic wit, creating tension between them that makes the film more entertaining than it has a right to be. The mystery resolves in a way that isn't hugely satisfying, but the lively tone never lets up, even as things become increasingly grim. We know that it will end with Poe's death (the story is told as an extended flashback), and while the whodunit isn't hugely convincing as an explanation for real-world events, it's a thoroughly entertaining movie plot.

cert 15 themes, violence 31.Jan.12

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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall