DVD Release Date: October 9, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: April 27, 2012
Rating: R (for bloody violence and grisly images)
Genre: Suspense
Run Time: 111 min.
Director: Lewis McTeigue
Actors: John Cusack, Luke Evans, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson, Kevin McNally, Oliver Jackson-Cohen

The Raven reminds us that the movie-release schedule plays by certain rules, one of which is that the highbrow end-of-year releases designed to win Oscars give way to poor-quality films in the new year. With few exceptions, the streak of lesser films that the studio expects to be seen and rather quickly forgotten continues until May, when big summer releases start taking up most North American movie screens.

2012 has defied expectations to some extent. So far this year, we’ve had a wonderful family film in The Secret World of Arrietty, impressive actioners like Haywire and Act of Valor, a semi-successful romantic comedy with Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, and a foreign film titled The Kid with a Bike that is as close to perfect as filmmaking gets.

Then we have The Raven, which is definitely at the other end of the movie-quality spectrum and much more in keeping with the kind of film we usually get this time of year. Misconceived, miscast and at times downright ugly in its depiction of depraved crimes, The Raven is a dismal attempt in capturing the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories.

John Cusack (2012) stars as Poe, whose death, we’re reminded as the film begins, included mysterious circumstances, and The Raven offers a fictional account of what might have led to Poe’s demise in Baltimore. Yet the film’s enduring mystery is why Cusack—a likeable, appealing actor with a limited range—was cast as Poe. The actor’s beard in the role of Poe is distinguished, although not much else is. Maybe Cusack convinced the casting director he was right for the part based on appearance alone.

In the film, Poe is an increasingly frustrated writer, at odds with an editor who wants more “gripping stories” and who isn’t interested in publishing the most recent piece Poe has submitted. The author is so short on cash that the local bartender won’t extend his tab—a real problem for the heavy-drinking Poe.

Poe’s efforts to expand his writing beyond the suspenseful stories for which he’s known are dealt a setback when a series of local murders reveal Poe’s influence: Someone is using the writer’s stories as models when killing off his victims. In one gruesome instance, a man is strung on a rack and sliced in two by a large, swinging blade—a method of execution that references Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum.” That killing, which occurs early in the film, sets the tone for what’s to come: a humorless detective story that more closely resembles today’s increasingly explicit “CSI”-style prime-time dramas than it does Poe’s moody, spine-tingling suspense tales.