Thursday, April 26, 2012
The latest thriller from director James McTeigue boasts a promising conceit -- Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack) assists a Baltimore detective in the hunt for a serial killer who’s using his (Poe’s) stories as inspiration. Sadly that promise remains unfulfilled as the film devolves into showy, anachronistic action and horror that bears little resemblance to the genre or author that it claims as inspiration. After the brutal murder of a mother and daughter in a locked room (from which the killer vanishes under the noses of surrounding policemen) Detective Fields (Luke Evans) notices a similarity between the circumstances of that crime and a plot device in a Poe story. Fields brings in the gaunt writer for questioning, initially as a suspect, but they soon form an alliance after another grisly murder – one that should have exceeded the bounds of the film’s R rating. As is the case with nihilistic narcissists, the murderer taunts the police and Poe with clues that only the most lunkheaded profiler could misinterpret. The barely cryptic messages lead them to a lavish costume ball hosted by wealthy Captain Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson). But the stable of lawmen is unable to prevent said psychopath from absconding with Hamilton’s daughter Emily (Alice Eve), who happens to be Poe’s paramour. Now Poe must race against time while matching wits with a murderous fanatic to save his beloved. The screenplay by Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare creaks and lurches as it spoon-feeds every twist and turn of its painfully predictable plot and forgoes any sense of time and place. Only a dash of Poe’s poetry here and myriad character and place references sprinkled throughout remind audiences of the film’s 1849 setting. Likewise McTeigue jettisons any pretext of period atmosphere as he ramps up actor intensity to the point of absurdity and gives his superfluous action scenes all the delicate ambience of a violent video game. The cast seems adrift, and the normally reliable Cusack and Gleeson fail to rise above playacting. Even rabid fans of the genre should take the titular character’s advice and see this film nevermore.