“God gave him a spark of genius, and quenched it in misery,” a character says of Edgar Allan Poe in the new film “The Raven.”
That’s how writers and horror fans picture him: a despicable, tormented genius with inky, fidgeting fingers, scrawling out morbid masterpieces to earn a few pennies to buy spirits — or something harder — to ease the pain.
But “The Raven” is no biopic. Screenwriters Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare and director James McTeigue (“V for Vendetta”) decided to give Poe a bit of fun before he passes away on Oct. 7, 1849 in Baltimore.
Just as Poe (John Cusack) meets the first woman ever to make him happy, Emily (Alice Eve), a psychopath goes on a murder spree. Each method of killing is borrowed from a Poe story.
Police detective Fields (Luke Evans) enlists Poe to consult on the case. But before they can make much headway, Emily is kidnapped and made the victim of “The Premature Burial.” She can still be saved, but time is running out.
So Poe races around on dark, cobblestone streets, or in the foggy woods, pointing guns and chasing a bad guy who gets away each time. The movie’s downside is its Hollywood half, with Poe the rescuer not nearly as interesting as Poe the suffering writer.
At first, Cusack is wonderful spewing tasty verbiage at foes, which sadly gets dropped as the film progresses. Even the killer seems disappointed during their final confrontation.
As Poe’s beloved, the Jayne Mansfield-like Eve seems uneasy in period dress — although viewers can easily believe Poe winning the heart of any damsel with his poem “Annabel Lee.”
Still, Poe remains a compelling character, and “The Raven” has plenty of gore, which, as one editor says, is what Poe fans really love.
The mystery is fairly well handled, with nifty little clues characters solve quickly before the audience gets ahead of them. In that respect, “The Raven” is even smarter than Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes” movies, which are more focused on chasing than solving puzzles.
“The Raven” falls into an interesting genre, a kind of biographical fiction that can promote fresh interest in great writers. And after all these years, Poe deserves a break.
Starring John Cusack, Alice Eve, Luke Evans
Written by Ben Livingston, Hannah Shakespeare
Directed by James McTeigue
Running time 1 hour 51 minutes