Poorly produced Poe

No one’s ravin’ about The Raven

Given that he essentially invented the detective genre it was really only a matter of time before an enterprising screenwriter gave Edgar Allen Poe the chance to star in his own big-screen whodunnit. The Raven introduces itself as the secret story of the mysterious last few days of Poe’s life swapping out the usual theories (which include syphilis rabies and oddly enough electoral fraud) with the more cinematic idea that he spent his last days battling a serial killer in a desperate race to save the love of his life.

As far as post-modern mash-ups go it’s not quite as outlandish as pitting Abe Lincoln against the legions of the undead. That’s not necessarily an advantage though — a little more go-for-broke pulpiness might’ve made The Raven a whole lot more fun. Instead director James McTeigue ( V for Vendetta Ninja Assassin ) strikes a tone somewhere between Se7en and Saw indulging in plenty of lingering shots of blood-stained corpses and severed tongues but the drama between those lurid images can’t hold the weight.

The Raven posits Poe as a largely charmless egomaniac and lush suffering through such a prolonged creative dry spell that even his newspaper articles keep getting bumped. That is until an ahead-of-his-time madman kidnaps Poe’s fiancée-to-be (Alice Eve given little to do aside from damsel-in-distressing) and challenges him to a public battle of wits. Like a century-early incarnation of The Riddler the kidnapper provides clues in the form of corpses each slaughtered in a manner straight out of one of the writer’s stories and Poe must capture the whole sordid affair in prose in each day’s newspaper. The script uses that premise to land a few jabs at the bloodlust of modern horror audiences although any sense of satire stumbles in the face of the cliché-heavy storyline.

The real Poe was much more than just the 19th century’s master of horror. He was a razor-sharp literary critic an early proponent of science fiction and even something of a theoretician coming up with a precursor to the big bang theory decades before physics figured that one out. Hints of that genius pop up in The Raven but for the most part the movie treats him like it treats the serial killer genre in general — rather than trying to capture something truly unique it’s content to stick with the Coles Notes.