Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Raven: Movie Review

Detail of Gothic #2, Literature, by Lilith Bloodrose, Mixed media collage. See full work here StrictlyGothic website

 The Verdict on "The Raven" Movie: Bottom Line, I liked it!

Yes, it was dark, and scary, and had a lot of great atmosphere and gritty gore scenes.
It's a murder mystery, along the lines of Criminal Minds or Bones, but set in Victorian Baltimore. And as the murders are quite grisly, they are based on Poe's stories, be prepared to see dismembered body parts lying about and lots of screaming. I'm just warning you.

In case you haven't heard it yet, here is the plot, in a nutshell:

Edgar Allan Poe is down on his luck. He's short on funds, and seems to have lost his muse. He writes reviews and columns for the local paper, but his popularity has waned, as we learn when the stinging review of another writer's work he had hoped would be a literary triumph (and earn him a few bucks) gets killed (publishing term for canceling a planned story before publication) before publication, and to his horror, is replaced in the paper by the very item he was reviewing. He's angry with his editor, and when he confronts him as to why this has happened, why not only kill his article but publish the very piece he was hacking to pieces in it's slot, the editor replies blandly, "The people like it." (the it meaning this rival author's work)

Ah, tis the bane of every author, someone elses work, whom you may secretly loathe, is loved by the masses, while your work is . . . ignored.

But Poe has an unknown  ally, a fan of a very creepy and twisted sort. This fan has been inspired to commit murders from reading Poe's work, and he's a serial killer from the cradle (Don't worry, I won't spoil the story for you by giving away the end, this part about the murderer's childhood comes out at the end of the movie), and since he admires Poe's work so much, he feels it is his 'moral' obligation to become Poe's muse, to get his juices flowing artistically again so he can reclaim his title of master. This premise is seriously creepy--it's basically "I'll kill for you to get you writing horror stories again."

The murders point the police to Poe, first as a possible suspect, but once the inspector realizes Poe is not the man responsible, he asks Poe to help him with the investigation as an expert witness because the murderer is using Mr. Poe's works as a template for each kill. This is a good idea, an excellent story idea. However, I had one problem with this premise; Poe wrote so many stories, how can they logically know which one the killer will use next?

It's sort of a crap shoot in my mind, but Poe and the police seem to figure out which of his stories will be used next based on clues given by the murderer on the bodies of past victims. As a writer, I found the idea of taking a huge body of work of a prolific writer, and being able to pinpoint an exact idea for the next murder a little stretched. But, I suspended my disbelief in order to enjoy this wonderfully dark, Gothic tale with Mr. Poe as the hero. (Every movie has it's flaws, right?) And besides, the main point of a movie is to entertain us. If we become too cerebral and scholarly about movies and their break with reality, we've really just ruined our own fun, haven't we? I won't do that.

To up the game for Poe, the killer decides to kidnap his lady love, Emily Hamilton and the implication is clear, she will die unless Poe figures out where she is being kept.  (Clue: buried alive, but where is the question). This is unexpected but brutal as Poe nearly falls apart at the news. Now it's personal. If Poe fails, Emily will die. Bodies pile up with clues attached or rather, inside them. Deliciously gory.

The chase scenes are excellent, as Poe and the police detectives hunt down the killer by following the bodies of clues, yes--dear reader, the killer leaves the bodies themselves as clues for the next kill. Poe and the inspector end up crashing the Theater during a live scene of Macbeth, end up crashing a Masked Ball, searching the dark tunnels below the city and chasing through the foggy countryside in pursuit of a killer who remains one step ahead of them. We get glimpses of the killer in a mask and cloak, running away just as the Poe and the Police arrive.  Cat and mouse, as one reviewer said.

If you like Poe, if you like Gothic movies, if you like Victorian Gothic, with dark nights and swirling fog, if you like murder mysteries--you will like this movie. If you like costume dramas and period pieces, you'll like this movie. If you are looking for an accurate portrayal of Edgar Allan Poe's life, you won't find it here. It takes place in his later years, after his wife's death from consumption, when his career has waned. At the end of the movie, this is made perfectly clear, when you read in the end credits. This movie is a work of fiction and any resemblance to actual persons, places or events is purely coincidental.  There you have it, in the filmmaker's own words.  This is fiction. Not truth, just a fun story, so don't go hunting for errors or expect the film depict Poe's life with complete accuracy--just have fun!

That's my point. Just have fun. A good Gothic thriller comes along only so often. And emphasis on the word GOOD. Yeah, we have plenty of losers out there that fail miserably, lots of B-Movies. This one is Very Good. It's not perfect, but movies never are. You can bash it to death, my beloved Gothic friends, find fault with every little detail, or just enjoy it, savor it as a triumph for the dark side. I don't think Poe would object, very much. This movie is so much better than the Poe movies from the 60's, seriously. (Check yesterday's post to read about them.)

Two last parting points:
1. John Cusack did a fabulous job portraying Poe. I'm used to Cusack as the quirky, funny male lead in modern romantic comedies, (Must Love Dogs, Serendipity) but he has crossed over to the dark side with grace and aplomb.

2. It is unfortunate that the release of this movie coincided with the opening of The Avengers. This will probably hurt box office ratings, but true Poe/Gothic fans will love it anyway. My husband and I saw it on Friday night, opening night for the Avengers. There was a long line to see The Avengers, while my darling and I, on the other hand, had the theater to ourselves. Could have had some good times making out all alone in the dark--but darn, that movie was just too fast paced and compelling to look away.

For the serious Goth, this movie will be a delicious escape into the world of Poe.  

Another incarnation of Poe on the big screen is an older movie, The Black Cat, 2007. This is another depiction of Poe, using events of his life as a backdrop, and is likely more accurate for the Poe Purists. Jeffrey Coombs stars as Poe. I've seen it. It's good and creepy, and has wince worthy moments.
The Black Cat link

Chills to You.

Lilith Bloodrose.

No comments:

Post a Comment