THE bloodthirsty writings of Edgar Allan Poe give birth to a deranged serial killer in James McTeigue’s hack-and-slash thriller set on the streets of 19th century Baltimore.
Punctuated by scenes of explicit gore including the cleaving of one heavily-bound victim by a giant pendulum blade, The Raven is suspenseful and tautly paced, drawing inspiration from the same well of misery as Se7en.
Screenwriters Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare splice fact with blood-spattered fiction, putting Poe’s own words into the mouth of the writer’s long-suffering newspaper editor (Kevin McNally), who remarks, “I believe that God gave him a spark of genius and quenched it in misery.”
However, the meat and gristle of The Raven is pure ludicrous invention, opening with a caption that reveals the final days of Poe’s inglorious life were shrouded in mystery.
Yet the film suggests the writer was involved in a high-profile murder case in the days before his untimely and suspicious demise – a case which made headlines at the time and would have certainly generated plenty of column inches for many weeks to come.
It’s the first of many inconsistencies that you will have to swallow to enjoy this disturbing journey to the dark side of human nature.
Baltimore detective Emmett Fields (Luke Evans) investigates a double murder in a supposedly locked room, where one girl’s body is discovered wedged in the chimney flue.
“This scene is familiar to me,” remarks Fields, recognising the similarity to a heinous crime described in lurid detail in a collection of short stories by Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack).
So Fields approaches the writer, a solitary figure who wanders the city streets and pokes at the splayed carcass of a dead cat in order to better understand the animal’s internal workings.
“Your imagination is the inspiration of a horrendous crime,” asserts Fields, who encourages Poe to help him get inside the tortured mind of the killer.
When a second victim is slain and the perpetrator targets Poe’s sweetheart Emily (Alice Eve), the writer gladly accepts the challenge, remarking tongue in cheek, “If I would have know my writing would have had such an effect on people, I would have devoted more time to eroticism.”
The Raven sustains dramatic tension for almost two hours, anchored by a quixotic performance from Cusack as the tortured genius, who confides, “I despise people who despise me.”
Evans is a tad bland and Eve’s damsel in corseted distress is more of a plot device than a fully fledged love interest.
Director McTeigue (V For Vendetta) has brio when it matters, concealing the identity of the murderer, who quips with understated dry humour, “I used to live for your stories. When you stopped writing them, I guess I went a bit nuts.”