Review: It’s Edgar Allan Cusack In 2012’s “The Raven”

2012’s The Raven, starring John Cusack (not to be confused with 2012, starring John Cusack) is a slick “historical” horror film with high production values and no soul. And when I say “no soul,” I don’t even mean in a fun way, such as with the standard undead madcap creatures eating gray matter. Oh Roger Corman, where are you?

I’ll admit, I was initially very excited when I heard the news that my fave actor John Cusack was going to play Edgar Allan Poe in this film. And truly: Cusack (who is basically playing…Cusack) is the only reason to watch this movie.

But after his first big scene at the tavern—an uncomfortable blend of period costuming/set-design and anachronistic scripting (and I don’t mean in a fun, Baz Lurhmann way with at least some poppy song montages to massage away the dissonance)—it was clear to me that the actor was wrong for this part. (That said, it’s probably the best scene in the whole movie.)

Said tavern scene, in which Poe is established as an arrogant, drunk, penniless crank, is somewhat painful to watch—because it’s Cusack basically playing some contemporary dude (again…most probably Cusack, with just a touch of Hunter S. Thompson) railing against the critics and unwashed masses who can’t understand his work. He doesn’t even try to be Poe here. It’s like a replay of those fantasy scenes in High Fidelity where he’s going to bash that smug Tim Robbins douchebag.

“I coulda had a V8!”

At least the original choice for Poe, Jeremy Renner (who had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts), would have been a far better fit to portray the famous author (reference Renner’s tres-uncomfortable Dahmer for a chance to see the “Hawkeye” actor play “creepy”). But it seems there are still script remnants from the earlier casting in a scene when Poe’s nemesis refers to him as “short” or “small”—and meanwhile here is ye standarde tall, slightly stooping John Cusack dressed in his gothy duds. Hello?

The premise of The Raven (in a plot freakishly similar to the then-recent Kevin Bacon TV series The Following) is that somebody is going around Baltimore copycatting murders based on the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. Hence, a good portion of the movie is spent focusing not on Poe but instead on the “dreamy” Inspector Fields (Luke Evans). Fields suggests that Poe team up with him to solve the murders, a situation that takes an even more desperate turn when the latter’s girlfriend Emily (Alice Eve) is kidnapped in an utterly anti-climactic, stupid way during a masquerade ball. (But tell us how you really feel, Val.)

Poe with Inspector McDreamypants

The Raven not only embraces modern horror tropes (the gore-soaked serial murders turn the film into a mix of the “Saw” franchise and CSI), but clearly wants to turn Poe into a handsome action hero (a la the same year’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter). Unfortunately, this is a feat which only would have only worked with the lead actor’s tongue planted ever-so gently-in-cheek—and instead, we get a ripped-out-tongue.  

The Brits seem to “get” this concept of a historical-contemporary-action-comedy-horror, with films like The Abominable Dr. Phibes, and cult director Corman perfected the technique with his own Poe movie franchise. But no, 2012’s Raven takes itself so damn seriously to the point of unintentional parody. (But tell us how you really feel, Val.) The scene in which a bored, restless Poe fiddles around with a bloodless human version of said organ on his desk pretty much sums it up.

Raven director James McTeigue also helmed cult favorite V for Vendetta…so again, I have to wonder if the miscasting of Cusack as Poe was ultimately the crucial factor for this flick’s failure.

Cusack makes this facial expression throughout the entire film

Other productions ripped-off by The Raven include Se7en, Silence of the Lambs—and, in the climactic confrontation scene between Poe and Crazy Killer, even BBC’s Sherlock!

The ending is no less infuriating, sandwiching a ham-fisted metaphor for the state of our current sensationalistic media. And the utterly pointless “epilogue” (tacked-on for marketing reasons after an advance screening?) focusing on Inspector Field, which immediately launches into an uglier-than-hell CGI credits sequence, just about made me want to throw up. What. A. Waste. “The Raven Lays An Egg”: has that one been taken yet?

Anyway. At least this flick gave us this great gif that I do admit I use every once in a while: