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The Raven

John P. McCarthy
Source: Catholic News Service

Luke Evans stars in a scene from the movie "The Raven."
The macabre musings of Edgar Allan Poe have been adapted for the screen numerous times. In the latest instance, Baltimore's most famous literary son is not only the central character—he's also credited with being the progenitor of the horror movie genre.

While the makers of "The Raven" (Relativity) articulate the latter idea near the end of the proceedings, and only in passing, they're clearly banking on it animating their tale. Instead, casting Poe as the forerunner of, say, low-budget horror director Roger Corman only underscores our sense that the author's oeuvre is being picked at and that the film is straining to bring gravitas and wit to its own workaday mayhem and melancholia.

The grotesquery presented renders "The Raven" unsuitable for a majority of moviegoers and its failure to surprise will disappoint adults who self-identify as horror fans. Perhaps more unsavory than the images and scenarios themselves, however, is the underlying assumption that the reading or viewing public is naturally drawn toward morbidity, gore and sadism.

Either way, the titular bird's associations with death and scavenging are fully borne out.

A title card at the outset states we'll learn how the real-life Poe came to be discovered near death on a Baltimore park bench in 1849. This isn't the only mystery, real or fictional, that fails to be solved satisfactorily.

Short of funds and inspiration, the middle-aged Poe (John Cusack) scrounges for work to pay his bar bills and, more nobly, to put himself in a position to wed his high-society beloved Emily (Alice Eve). Yet Poe's prospective father-in-law, Captain Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson), has no intention of letting this caustic, gloomy and besotted scribbler marry his daughter.

Perversely enough, Poe's redemption will be achieved through a series of ghastly murders inspired by his stories. A serial killer painstakingly enacts crimes that Poe has described on paper, gruesomely claiming innocent lives while toying with the author. Detective Fields (Luke Evans), the police officer assigned to investigate, enlists Poe's help in catching the perpetrator, who raises the stakes by kidnapping Emily.

The plot turns are nothing if not predictable and director James McTeigue doesn't exhibit sufficient finesse to smooth over logical wrinkles. Despite a promising premise, scant frights and little suspense are to be found in the campy, ill-formed piece.

The game and always likable Cusack brings a gothic hipness to the role and yet, matching the screenplay, the performances are overripe across the board. Injecting enough purple bombast to fill the Chesapeake Bay fails to enliven this cadaverous entertainment.

At one point, Poe bellows, "Is imagination now a felony?" While it doesn't warrant incarceration, there's no doubt "The Raven" is guilty of displaying too little of that valuable commodity.

The film contains frequent and explicit grisly imagery and violence, some profanity, one instance of rough language, much crude and crass talk and several instances of sexual innuendo. The Catholic News Service classification is L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

John P. McCarthy is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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Charles de Foucauld: Born into an aristocratic family in Strasbourg, France, Charles was orphaned at the age of six, raised by his devout grandfather, rejected the Catholic faith as a teenager and joined the French army. Inheriting a great deal of money from his grandfather, Charles went to Algeria with his regiment, but not without his mistress, Mimi. <br /><br />When he declined to give her up, he was dismissed from the army. Still in Algeria when he left Mimi, Charles reenlisted in the army. Refused permission to make a scientific exploration of nearby Morocco, he resigned from the service. With the help of a Jewish rabbi, Charles disguised himself as a Jew and in 1883 began a one-year exploration that he recorded in a book that was well received. <br /><br />Inspired by the Jews and Muslims whom he met, Charles resumed the practice of his Catholic faith when he returned to France in 1886. He joined a Trappist monastery in Ardeche, France, and later transferred to one in Akbes, Syria. Leaving the monastery in 1897, Charles worked as gardener and sacristan for the Poor Clare nuns in Nazareth and later in Jerusalem. In 1901 he returned to France and was ordained a priest. <br /><br />Later that year Charles journeyed to Beni-Abbes, Morocco, intending to found a monastic religious community in North Africa that offered hospitality to Christians, Muslims, Jews, or people with no religion. He lived a peaceful, hidden life but attracted no companions. <br /><br />A former army comrade invited him to live among the Tuareg people in Algeria. Charles learned their language enough to write a Tuareg-French and French-Tuareg dictionary, and to translate the Gospels into Tuareg. In 1905 he came to Tamanrasset, where he lived the rest of his life. A two-volume collection of Charles' Tuareg poetry was published after his death. <br /><br />In early 1909 he visited France and established an association of laypeople who pledged to live by the Gospels. His return to Tamanrasset was welcomed by the Tuareg. In 1915 Charles wrote to Louis Massignon: “The love of God, the love for one’s neighbor…All religion is found there…How to get to that point? Not in a day since it is perfection itself: it is the goal we must always aim for, which we must unceasingly try to reach and that we will only attain in heaven.”   <br /><br />The outbreak of World War I led to attacks on the French in Algeria. Seized in a raid by another tribe, Charles and two French soldiers coming to visit him were shot to death on December 1, 1916. <br />Five religious congregations, associations, and spiritual institutes (Little Brothers of Jesus, Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Little Sisters of Jesus, Little Brothers of the Gospel and Little Sisters of the Gospel) draw inspiration from the peaceful, largely hidden, yet hospitable life that characterized Charles. He was beatified on November 13, 2005. American Catholic Blog You know, O my God, I have never desired anything but to love you, and I am ambitious for no other glory.

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