is in trouble before the first thinly drawn character appears on screen. The audience is informed, via title card, that in the days before his death,
was mumbling incoherently on a park bench. His last days are still a mystery.
The filmmakers then set about unraveling those mysterious days. Poe (
), in their telling, was involved in tracking down a Baltimore serial killer. That the serial killer does Poe in (it’s not a really a spoiler given the fact that Poe is dying when we first see him) is a fanciful way to gloss over the fact that the guy, in real life, was an incorrigible drunk who probably was delirious from booze and had a liver the size of a foie gras goose.
Consider for a moment that Poe was healthy enough to track a serial killer (unlikely). Wouldn’t that be in every write-up of the poet’s life and demise? Surely, if one is changing history, one should do it in a way that is not so easily disprovable. We can only suspend so much disbelief.
But whatever. There are bodies to mash! And boy, are they mashed. And gashed. And sliced. And strangled. And shot. And buried alive. Someone is murdering his way across town and in the manner Poe laid out in his various tales of the macabre. After the police, led by Detective Fields (Luke Evans), determine Poe is not a suspect, he helps them track the killer.
What happens next? Anyone who has seen any good (or bad) serial killer movie released in the last 20 years will be one step ahead of the cops and Poe, who clearly never saw
. If they had, they would have known, respectively, that the killer’s identity is totally ludicrous; Poe’s stories are his own alibi; and some poor victim is alive and being tortured for a greater purpose.
The filmmakers have seen those movies—and others—so therefore they may remain one step ahead of their characters. Yeah, this review has taken a turn for the meta, but when a movie is dull enough that the reviewer starts musing about all the other serial killer movies he’s seen, make other weekend plans.
Not even the violence in
is interesting. It’s gross, sure, and one could argue that it’s necessary because it’s designed to mimic Poe’s work. Unfortunately, it’s not very well done. The computer-generated blood in one death scene is so corny, one begs for the days of Karo syrup and red food coloring.
And oh, the poor actors. Cusack has one genuinely good moment when he recites “The Raven.” That he reads well is probably a testament to the poem’s strength rather than Cusack’s strengths as an actor. Mostly he seems way too contemporary to be 19th-century poet, especially when Poe tries to use wit to gain favor in drinking establishments of disrepute.
The other actors are window dressing for the grisly goings-on.
, Poe’s beloved, spends most of the movie stuck in a box; Brendan Gleeson is wasted as Eve’s father (and of course he hates Poe); and Evans tries his best to breathe life into that perpetually underwritten part, the hard-boiled cop.
The one bright spot in
is its final scene—not because the movie ends, but because the screenplay shows its one moment of ingenuity. Just when we think we’re being needlessly set up for a sequel, we’re not. Maybe the editors should have moved that scene to the beginning.