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Why is ‘The Raven’ Garnering Negative Reviews?

By on April 29, 2012

John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe. Photo by Larry Horricks – © 2011 Intrepid Pictures

A serial killer bases his murders on the grim poems of Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack), pushing the poet himself to hunt down the criminal. The concept of The Raven is a fascinating one. Directed by James McTeigue and written by Hannah Shakespeare and Ben Livingston, the film is dark and imaginative. Stylistically it is very beautifully shot, with gothic imagery and creative scene breaks from beginning to end.

Clearly it is not meant to be a historically accurate film. While entertaining and thrilling, it is not for the faint of heart due to the gory aspects. A love story and murder mystery combined, it is impossible to classify in one genre. Perhaps that is one reason for the variety of negative reviews appearing so far. People can have a hard time with concepts that cannot be titled and put in a box. Interestingly enough, the real Edgar Allan Poe also struggled to find recognition from critics.

The love story is written in a pleasantly believable way and lacks the corny, forced lines often seen when the romantic part of a story takes second place in a film. When Poe’s fiancée Emily Hamilton (the delicate Alice Eve), is put in danger, the stakes are raised. Poe must work with Detective Emmett Fields (Luke Evans) to figure out where Emily is being kept. Creepily, the killer obsessed with Poe also insists that the poet write about his painful search and publish it in the local paper.

John Cusack and James Hazeldine. Photo by Larry Horricks – © 2011 Amontillado Productions, LLC. All rights reserved.

With every line his character delivers, Cusack brings his own usual brand of quick, intelligent wit. Impressively, the poetry of Poe falls easily from his lips and he delivers the poet’s mad brilliance with an effortless ease. Poe seems to go through the daily motions of his life with some sorrow, as if already regretting the tragedies he expects will befall him. At one point, Poe mentions that a melancholy has followed him around ‘like a black dog’ all his life. Cusack manages to portray that ominous sense of foreshadowing even in the lighter scenes. His co-star Evans provides a logical voice in conversations where Poe drifts toward the illusory.

If you’re the type that enjoys trying to figure out who the bad guy is before the film is over, you may find that aspect of The Raven a little unsatisfying. There are very few clues as to who the villain is until nearly the end. However, the critic in the film meets a rather gruesome fate early on, so perhaps we – or I – won’t dwell on that less than splendid aspect of the story.

Chilling and original, The Raven whisks you off to a strange realm for a spell and when the credits pop up, you feel like you’ve been jarred from an unnerving dream.

The Raven is currently playing in theaters nationwide.

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