CHICAGO – Let’s face it, life does suck. But what can we do about that? How do we survive? Lookingglass Theatre Company’s latest stage presentation tries to answer those thorny questions through a group of fellow travelers, flung together at a cabin retreat, trying to figure out why (indeed) “Life Sucks.”
Edgar Allan Poe Deserves Better Than ‘The Raven’
CHICAGO – “The Raven” is such a snooze fest that it could have the disastrous effect of turning young viewers off from actually reading Edgar Allan Poe. Trust me, young readers – nothing by Poe is this generic, dull, boring, or plain stupid. Taking the two hours of your life that it would take to see “The Raven” and reading anything by the man who inspired it would be a smarter use of your time. And you’d be less likely to fall asleep.
Despite the pilfering of the title of Poe’s legendary tale of a black bird who came gently rapping at his chamber door, “The Raven” is not about a bird. In fact, it could have just as easily been called “The Tell-Tale Heart” or any number of Poe works as it has as much to do with them as it does the bird who said “Nevermore.” What does “The Raven” take from reality? Edgar Allen Poe lived in Baltimore. He died mysteriously, sitting on a park bench. He was a writer and worked at a newspaper. That’s about it. The rest is nonsense disguised as a gothic thriller but with absolutely none of the personality required for a story like this to work. Poe had a morbid sense of humor, a sense of the importance of the macabre to challenge the hearts and minds of his readers. There’s nothing challenging about this awful film, one that over-explains everything and becomes more of a chore than reading aloud during detention.
Photo credit: Rogue
John Cusack, who takes none of the blame for this disaster, doing his best with the little he’s been given, stars as Edgar Allen Poe, a role that I’m certain Nicolas Cage has fired his agent over not getting since it often seems like it was designed with Cage’s trademark wide-eyed scenery chewing in mind. Cusack, naturally, goes more subtle and therefore Poe himself becomes a cog in the machine – a device for what is essentially a cut-rate thriller. The alleged suspense swirls around a serial killer who has been copying the morbid details of Poe’s work in graphic, gory detail. Let’s just say that “The Pit and the Pendulum” has never been visualized quite like it is here.
Who is mimicking the great author’s works? Is it to frame Poe? And what will he do when his true love Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve) is kidnapped by the madman? Inspector Emmett Fields (Luke Evans) first suspects Poe and then works alongside him, knowing that he’s probably the only one who can in the head of the man turning Baltimore upside down.
Photo credit: Rogue
At its core, “The Raven” is not a bad idea. Poe was a master storyteller, one of the most influential of all time, and using his concepts to make a modern serial killer movie is a pitch that would make any studio head sit forward in their seat. It’s what happened after the set-up. “The Raven” simply has no personality. It’s boring when it should be riveting and it is so completely bereft of those intangibles like atmosphere and dread that make a film like this successful. To be blunt, I never gave a damn about what was happening in “The Raven” and wondered how director James McTeigue (who has faced rumors that The Wachowski Brothers directed “V For Vendetta” and not him…and this film should only add fuel to that fire) couldn’t see what was happening as production rolled along. “The Raven” is a snooze.
And yet I don’t hold John Cusack or Alice Eve responsible. Cusack does his best to make Poe interesting but he’s a non-character in his own story, someone who gets dragged along on the twisting and turning plot with no development or personality of his own. In the end, “The Raven” is no more interesting or complex than one of those cut-rate thrillers that you pick up at an airport, get halfway through on a plane, and throw away before your destination. Edgar Allen Poe deserves so much better.