Review in a Hurry: Nevermore? Try never mind. The Raven does feature handsome production design and a promising premise—a 19th-century serial killer commits murders inspired by Edgar Allen Poe's stories (it's like Se7en for the literati crowd). But without narrative guts, this not-so-thrilling thriller proves a bloody disappointment.
The Bigger Picture: John Cusack goes goth to play the "father of Emo," Edgar Allen Poe. The infamous author is also credited as the inventor of the detective fiction genre, so it's cleverly fitting that The Raven puts the macabre master himself at the center of a whodunit. Unfortunately, much of this cat-and-mouse tale just chases its tail.
The mystery starts with the brutal slaughter of a mother and daughter in a Baltimore flat. Detective Emmett Fields (Luke Evans) realizes the crime resembles a murder described in one of Poe's stories. Poe initially comes under suspicion, but as more grisly killings occur, the author assists the authorities in their investigation.
Things really get personal when the killer kidnaps Poe's fiancée, Emily, and threatens to bury her alive. Poe and Fields have to decipher clues and solve the case before Emily becomes another victim of Poe's twisted fiction.
The screenwriters do some twisting of their own to posit a theory about Poe's mysterious death and last words, but the dots they try to connect don't make much sense. Investigation scenes are expositional and redundant, and the dialogue hits occasional anachronistic notes.
Casting too is uneven. While Brendan Gleeson makes the perfect disapproving father-in-law-to-be, Alice Eve as Emily is pretty, but vacuous bore. Cusack looks enough like Poe but doesn't convincingly embody a man often consumed with addiction-addled madness; his alcoholism is played for chuckles. Perhaps if the character had questioned his own sanity and capacity for murder, the script could have built more tension and terror.
Ultimately, this thriller's biggest crime is its scarcity of scares—the film spills a lot of blood without ever curdling yours. For that, you know Poe is rolling over in his grave.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Visually, The Raven is moody, stylish, and full of great period detail. A ballroom party sequence based on The Masque of the Red Death showcases lovely costumes and, yes, masks.