2012 • 111 minutes • Relativity Media
On this, All Hallow’s Eve Eve, let me spin you a spooky tale, dear readers. Of a desaturated period movie from 2012. Concerning a famous American historical figure. Set in the Mid-Atlantic in the 19th century. Whose frames are splattered with CGI blood. Lots and lots of CGI blood. (I guess when it’s digital, it’s free!) And, of course, featuring historically accurate sunglasses.
What’s that, reader mine? No, I’m not talking about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter! No, that would be exciting, because there would at least be supernatural nasties at work (and Dominic West working some sick sunglasses). Although, having not seen it, I can’t authoritatively say if it’s exciting or not. In any case, my kittens, we are instead talking of The Raven, 2012’s other strange high-concept historical movie that came from beyond Grimdark Canyon for what surely must be some good reason. If only the film could think of it.
Despite its high concept premise—Edgar Allen Poe fights crime!—The Raven seems largely uninterested in what’s happening. Because of its very specific premise, I assume that this was someone’s baby, but at some point, it feels like it got handed off to some step-parents, German fairy tale edition. I have seen many movies with tortured production histories and many purposefully terrible movies in my day. In my experience, the apathy that suffuses every frame of The Raven is wholly unique.
In archer hands, The Raven could have been something a little more solid. There’s an alternate universe where this film stars Nicolas Cage and it went on to become a cult classic. (All of a sudden, I’m very sure that this version of the film is directed by John Woo, and here is your usual reminder to go watch Face/Off. WHAT AN AWESOME MOVIE.) But in our universe, The Raven happened the way it did: apologetically.
This is not to say that The Raven does not have some utility. (After all, it made its budget back and everybody got paid, so yay!) It’s certainly proof that combining the two most potentially suffocating cinematic genres—the authorial biopic wherein life imitates art and the serial killer procedural—results in a deadly lack of air. (Those genres must have been fresh at some point, but I can only think of Shakespeare in Love being a fun example of the former. Does anyone have a good example of the latter?) And it’s a surprisingly good showcase for Alice Eve, who does her damndest to make a meal out of a nothing role as Emily Hamilton, Poe’s love interest. Emily loves Poe’s writing, but, and this is not a spoiler, when she’s targeted by the serial killer using his work as inspiration, she finds herself in a horrible situation. Eve gives Emily a capability and vulnerability that’s really engaging. I would have watched an entire movie about her—and that movie would been interesting and unique in a sea of films that have this desaturated and comically grimdark sensibility. But, as the female lead in a film like this, she’s functionally a motivational MacGuffin for our “hero.”
It’s also a very decent showcase for Luke Evans as Inspector Emmett Fields, the delightfully fussy and focused detective who recruits Poe to investigate these brutal murders. Evans has done his fair share of movies of this tone—Dracula Untold, anyone?—but this, at least, is one where he gets to be a little wry. It is a definite mark in his favor that I stopped paying attention to the third act of the film to begin loudly elaborating on a theory shipping Fields and one of the other policemen based on the fact that they’re on a first name basis (in the depths of danger, but still).
And, of course, that’s a mark against the film, if I’m spending most of my time watching it concocting more interesting backstories for its supporting cast than the story in front of me. So farewell, The Raven—the scariest thing about you is how easily you dissolve into nothing in the memory.
(I thought of another way this movie is useful! You could definitely make a case for this movie being the origin story of Hannibal’s Baltimore, with the film’s villain being its first overly convoluted and arty serial killer.)
I rented this DVD from the public library.