Well well, seems like "killer fan imitates idol's works" is trending! Before The Raven came out, I thought it was going to be big: it had style, mystery and Edgar Allan Poe! How can you go wrong with that? But, as they say, those who persevere always find a way.
Note: I made the screencaps a bit lighter this time, so you can actually see what's going on.
Genres: action, crime, horror, mystery, thriller
Warnings: impressive amounts of blood and graphic gore
In 19th century Baltimore, poet and writer Edgar Allan Poe teams up with detective Fields in order to stop a killer whose MO seems to be recreating the murders in Poe's stories.
Spotting which of Poe's stories and poems are mentioned/adapted before they're actually named is fun, if you're a Poe fan. This may come across as tiresome at times, though, and like they're simply listing his works in order to make the viewers aware of them (those who aren't). Still, it's fun trying to name the stories based on the clues you're given. You can also try playing "spot the celebrity", since the cast's pretty famous (you may also spot a certain someone who also appeared in the Pirates of the Caribbean series!).
In that aspect, the acting is solid and mostly consistent throughout the movie: we have John Travolta, who looks nothing like Poe (goatee? seriously?) but plays him nevertheless; Luke Evans as Fields, the detective who's stuck with solving the case; Alice Eve as Emily Hamilton, Poe's love interest; and many more. Now, Travolta's Poe is a delight to watch: clumsy, bitingly sarcastic, brutally honest and always teetering on the edge of sanity (and falling over a couple of times); he revels in being over-the-top and delivers one of the best performances. Luke Evans delivers the second-best one, though he comes across as too mellow for a detective at times; it did feel fresh to see that he wasn't entirely on top of the situation, though. Finally, Alice Eve's Emily is decent for a love interest: she's not completely useless and genuinely tries to take care of herself, though she is slightly wooden and unconvincing in the scenes with Travolta. The others are alright, albeit not too noticeable.
The atmosphere's pretty good; the movie starts out dark in tone and stays like this until the end. Lots of scenes take place during the night, on Baltimore's apparently ever misty streets. The scenes that do take place indoors are warm lit, both those featuring Poe and the "good guys" and those featuring the killer.
Oh, and Poe's raccoon is very cute.
Yes, that's a human heart. Yes, it's eating it.
As much as I consider myself a Poe prose fan, the Pendulum scene stands out like a sore thumb among the rest. Even though the movie has no science-fiction elements at all, it pushed my suspension of disbelief until I couldn't ignore this: that contraption looked like it was taken straight out of a later Saw movie - over the top, excessively gory, could've been taken out without affecting the pacing very much. Hell, I even commented "wow, they're upping the ante for Saw!" every time they'd cut back to that scene.
Next we have the shitty special effects. I mentioned before that the movie is presented as being fairly grounded in reality...so why the overuse of bullet time? First time it appeared, it looked strange, but I blamed it all on the lack of a budget necessary to achieve a better effect and the director wanting to include something that looked "cool". But after it kept appearing, I couldn't give it a free pass anymore because it didn't help the movie one bit and only got in the way of the plot itself. It would've been better for them to follow a realistic approach to the end, since there had been no indication that the movie was made to be "cool" or "gimmicky" intentionally.
And it looks like not even more recent movies can escape the old clichés, such as characters being able to get up constantly while severely injured or on the brink of death. Though this can be blamed on adrenalin rushes, they didn't fit within the mood of the scenes they were in. One of these particular moments is near the end and makes it seem very drawn-out (if you thought Return of the King had 15 endings, this one feels like it had more than that*).
After thinking about it for a while, what sense does the title make? Apart from the raven showing up randomly on at least three occasions, it really serves no purpose to the story. It would've been interesting to see Poe at least acknowledging it - and therefore turning it into a motif - instead of it being almost shrugged off as an annoying inconvenience. Furthermore, one of its appearances (an adult, fully-grown raven being nailed shut inside of a coffin) doesn't even make sense physically OR supernaturally, since there are no indications whatsoever that this story is supposed to have supernatural elements.
* I still love ROTK to bits, though.
The Plain WTF
In true whodunit fashion, the villain is revealed at the end, when they explain why they did their villainy things. And while the villain's motivation (money, jealousy, booty etc.) usually makes sense in traditional whodunit mysteries, I couldn't help but ask "...why?" after The Raven's big reveal. Without spoiling too much, the villain doesn't appear often and doesn't really have a strong motivation: recreating the murders in Poe's stories, in hopes of attracting the attention of his idol. To me, the payoff was disappointing, to say the least, because I'd built up too many expectations regarding the villain (especially after seeing those complicate Saw traps), only for me to say "wow, this brought the whole movie down a few notches" in the end.
The epilogue may be included here as well, since I find it very farfetched that a certain character was able to do what they did with the resources available in the 19th century. Never knew they had such good information networks back then, they even rival the internet!
Edgar Allan Poe: What's going on?
Detective Fields: I'm Detective Fields. Please, sit down, Mr. Poe.
Edgar Allan Poe: Yes. The infamous Detective Fields. Am I under arrest?
Detective Fields: No... not just yet.
Edgar Allan Poe: Then I'd rather stand! It makes it easier to leave!
Edgar Allan Poe: Take this kiss upon the brow!/And, in parting from you now/ Thus much let me avow/You are not wrong, who deem/All that we see or seem/Is but a dream within a dream.
Sergeant Beard** has a glorious beard.
** nicknamed by us
Verdict and recommendations
I thought I'd love this movie; it had everything I wanted in the beginning: mood, Poe and an R rating (does anyone take PG-13 horror/thrillers seriously anymore?), but fell short of my expectations after a while. It didn't really know what to present itself as: horror, thriller, whodunit mystery story or drama, so it ended up becoming confusing and difficult to judge. It could've been much better, that's a given, but some plot points were so unrealistic that they couldn't be ignored - and they weren't explained either.
Originality + creativity: 0.8 / 2 points - the whole "killer fan imitates idol's works" is overdone
Actors: 1.8 / 2 points - to be fair, the actors do fit the parts and the acting's not that bad at all
Soundtrack: 1 / 2 points - didn't stand out or draw my attention in particular
Special effects/Natural flow: 0.5 / 1 points - the special effects were either alright or bad
How much I enjoyed it: 1 / 3 points - for reasons stated above
My rating: (5.6, rounded out to 6 out of 10)
The Raven (2012) on IMDb.com