Found roaming the streets delirious in the last moments leading to his passing, history has spun multiple theories surrounding the mysterious fate of Edgar Allen Poe. V For Vendetta director James McTeigue poses a metafictional account of these final days, suggesting that the revered wordsmith became Victorian sleuth in the hunt for a maniacal fan replicating grisly murders from Poe’s literary works.
John Cusack embodies the destitute poet with an acerbic wit and mercurial charm, relishing early scenes of a drunken, misanthropic Poe rampaging through Victorian-era Boston with nothing but a barbed tongue. Cusack is on top form as he verbally tussles his way through each facet of Poe’s existence (the local drinking hole declines his business, his editor won’t print his work and his fiancé’s father refuses to consent to their engagement).
Sadly, McTeigue’s direction is lost outside of the central performance, awkwardly contrasting Cusack’s verbose act with a Saw-like knack for inventive deathtraps and discomforting crime scenes. Victims are found stuffed up chimneys, severed in two by pendulums and in various other contorted forms throughout the duration with a tonal inconsistency that jars heavily with the energetic persona of the lead.
The Raven never scratches beneath the surface of Poe’s morbid psyche, as the character recoils as the horrors intensify, stepping aside for Luke Evan’s driven detective to dominate the screen. Elsewhere, Alice Eve exhales a few squeaks as Poe’s characterless love interest and her father (played by Brendan Gleeson) puffs irrational nonsense with pantomime gusto. As the murder mystery unravels at a ponderous pace, so too does the film, creeping waywardly towards its misjudged conclusion.
A confident performance by Cusack aside, The Raven is saddled with a script that is lacking spark and ultimately unworthy of Poe’s smarts. If McTeigue’s direction remained as tight as the central performance then Poe could have been another Victorian sleuth worth investigating, but with such unimaginative ends it’s a mystery best left unsolved.