It takes a certain amount of hubris to slap a goatee on John Cusack because he looks a little bit like famed author Edgar Allan Poe and make up a movie as you go along. Whatever the precise amount of hubris that requires, The Raven has it ... and then some. Look, this is a film for which I was prepared to forgive quite a bit. It's a period piece about a famous writer with a mystery at its center. From Hell meets Sherlock Holmes? That's an aesthetic practically made for me. Put another way, you know the folks behind The Raven really screwed up if I hated their film as much as I did.
Cusack plays Poe, who returns to Baltimore several days before his death, bitter about the fact that his world-famous poem "The Raven" has not led to a world-famous fortune and intent on marrying his beloved Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve) despite her father Captain Hamilton's (Brendan Gleeson) objections. Poe's return to the Charm City coincides with a series of horrific murders, all of them patterned after the author's most famous works. If you're familiar with The Murders of the Rue Morgue, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Masque of the Red Death, The Mystery of Marie Roget, The Cask of the Amontillado and The Tell-Tale Heart, you'll get to see them all referenced in grisly detail here.
Despite the fact that Poe dreamed up these deaths in the first place, that the murders sync up with his return to Baltimore and that one of the victims is a literary rival of his, he is dismissed as a suspect by Inspector Emmett Fields (Luke Evans) hastily. I suppose the fact that he should be the obvious principal suspect is inconvenient to the sub-mediocre plot here. Anyway, Poe is only sucked back in to the case when Emily is kidnapped by the mysterious killer -- the killer telling Poe that Emily will be his next victim unless he begins writing again. (Poe, because he is deeply in love with Emily has stopped writing horror, you see. There's nothing quite like a busty blonde to kill creativity.) So write he does.
When Poe isn't busy penning columns for the Baltimore papers, he's teaming up with Inspector Fields to parse clue after clue that will lead them to Emily, who by now has been trapped in a small, dark space for days and is growing quite weak. The dual purpose of their chase seems to be to develop a bromance between Fields and Poe and to get John Cusack to YELL AND BE DEMONSTRATIVE BECAUSE HE LOVES EMILY, DUH.
The Raven achieves this goal, I suppose, insomuch as Fields and Poe are chummy despite the fact that their friendship is never really explained or developed and Cusack does raise his voice in the place of, you know, actually acting. What purpose there is in achieving those goals is unclear.
Other than the fact that you get to see just how devastating a bladed pendulum is on human flesh, The Raven is a fairly complete waste of time -- a waste of Cusack's considerable acting talents and a waste of the possibility of tapping into Poe's classic tales as the framework for a murder mystery.