Raven: Reimagining Edgar Allan Poe

In the stylish gothic thriller, The Raven, when a brutal killing spree terrorizes 19th-century Baltimore, a young detective turns to a notorious author for help getting into the mind of a serial killer.

 

Directed by James McTeigue (“V for Vendetta”), The Raven is written by Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare (“Loverboy”).

 

McTeigue’s reimagining of the lurid tales of Edgar Allan Poe stars John Cusack, as the infamous inventor of the detective fiction genre, and Luke Evans, as an ambitious sleuth determined to stop more of Poe’s gruesome stories from coming to chilling life.

The Raven weaves history and fiction into an original, twisted mystery.  It begins with the discovery  the bodies of a mother and daughter viciously murdered in 19th-century Baltimore, Detective Emmett Fields (Evans) makes a startling discovery: the crime resembles a fictional murder described in gory detail in the local newspaper.

 

They are part of a collection of stories penned by struggling writer and social outcast Edgar Allan Poe (Cusack). But as Poe is questioned by police, another grisly killing occurs, also inspired by a popular Poe story.

 

A deadly game of cat and mouse ensues as the pair races to stop a madman from turning every one of the author’s shocking stories into blood-curdling reality. When Poe’s love, Emily (Alice Eve), becomes the killer’s next target, the stakes are raised even higher and he must call on his own powers of deduction to try to solve the case before it’s too late.

On a dark night in 1849, Baltimore police Detective Emmett Fields rushes to the scene of a grisly murder, and finds the mutilated bodies of a woman and her daughter in a rundown apartment. The apartment door has been locked from the inside and the only window nailed shut, but somehow the killer has managed to escape. Investigating further, Detective Fields discovers that the nail is actually a carefully-crafted spring mechanism and the window only appears to be sealed—a detail he recognizes from Edgar Allan Poe’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue.”

 

So begins the puzzle at the center of The Raven, which inventively blends fact and fiction in a diabolical murder mystery cast in the mold of the original master of horror. “It’s a great thriller with lots of twists and turns,” says producer Mark Evans. “The story has everything you want out of a movie: thrills, romance, adventure, some R-rated gore—and lots of other good stuff.”

 

Scribes Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare have created a whodunit that manages to subtly weave parts of Poe’s work, life and mysterious death into an original tale, even casting Poe in the role of amateur detective, helping Fields track down the killer. “It was Ben’s concept,” says Shakespeare. “He asked, ‘What if a serial killer was using Poe’s stories to commit his crimes?’ The stories are ingenious vehicles for murder.”

 

Their story unfolds against the backdrop of Baltimore society, high and low, bringing together fictional and historical figures in a dazzling narrative as Fields and Poe follow a string of baffling murders. “We never set out to make a completely accurate historical biography,” says Livingston. “We have taken facts about his life and put them in the movie to give it some historical context, then improvised from there. It’s a work of original fiction, but part of the fun of watching it will be recognizing the story elements.”

 

The writers completed a draft in six months and began circulating it to studios. It got an enthusiastic reception when it landed on the desk of producer Aaron Ryder, who oversaw two original and intriguing movies, “Memento” and “Donnie Darko.”

 

Ryder shared the project with his eventual producing partners, Marc Evans and Trevor Macy. “Ben and Hannah’s story was a completely fresh idea and incredibly clever,” says Ryder.

 

In seeking a director, the producers turned to James McTeigue, known for creating immersive new worlds for his audience in visually singular films such as V for Vendetta and Ninja Assassin.

 

Ryder says it took just a single meeting with McTeigue to convince him that he had found the ideal director for The Raven. “He asked me how far he would be able to push this stylistically,” says the producer. “In that one conversation I understood he was the absolute perfect guy to direct this movie. I never looked back.”

 

“James is a fantastic director,” adds Evans. “He understands the filmmaking process from top to bottom. Whether it’s the schedule or visual effects or how to get an actor to delve into the character differently, he inspires confidence in everybody. He knows how to motivate people.”

 

McTeigue compares looking for a script he wants to direct with panning for gold. “I don’t often come across projects that resonate with me the way this film did,” he says. “The script was really tight. It was a great, interesting concept. The murder motifs in this film are taken directly from Poe’s work, and Edgar Allan Poe ultimately becomes a character in one of his own stories.”

 

McTeigue patterned the film after Poe’s greatest short stories. “They all have this incredible macabre quality, as if they happen in the netherworld of his imagination,” he says. “I really wanted the film to maintain a pop sensibility, because Poe reflected the fears and hopes of the time he lived in. He was one of those genius figures that come along every now and then, like Vincent Van Gogh or Leonardo da Vinci, who seems out of time. He drew from science and politics and art to fashion a new paradigm.”

 

The director also manages to work into the fabric of the film a very contemporary ethical question. “Poe writes these stories about death and killing, but ultimately he’s never been responsible for anything he writes,” says McTeigue. “When another character in our story says to him, ‘Surely you can’t write all these things and take no responsibility for it?’ Poe’s initial reaction is, ‘Is imagination a crime?’” But Poe will face those consequences.”

 

The screenwriters have invented a vicious and completely fictional serial killer who takes as inspiration for his crimes Poe’s stories, including “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.”

 

“In the development process, Aaron Ryder and the writers did an unbelievable amount of work crafting the story,” says Evans. “When we got involved, we plucked out a few more ideas that we could weave, whether subtly or not so subtly, into the story.”

Combining historical fact with Poe’s imagination and his own flights of creative fancy is part of the fun, Livingston says. “It’s a work of fiction, but we wanted Poe fans to be able to say, ‘I know that part of the story.’ We didn’t set out to write a PhD dissertation on Poe. The movie is meant to be entertaining. At its heart, it is more a love letter to him.”

 

Ryder says that while The Raven may have initially had its roots in historical fact, the film stands on its own as a unique and challenging thriller. “Hannah and Ben took what little can be known and used it as a creative jumping off point for their story,” he says. “We’ve threaded some of the existing facts into it, but we also had a great deal of fun creating something completely new and original.”

 

Evans says the script is the perfect amalgamation of all of things Poe. “It will give you everything you could possible want: a ticking clock, life or death situations and a great hero. The Raven is a multi-layered movie that gives you a solid couple of hours’ worth of entertainment. But it isn’t just a thrill ride. We’ve got great characters who go on a complicated journey. The audience gets to ride the ups and downs with them and come out at the other end having had an enjoyable experience they’ll want to go back and see again, and will recommend to their friends.”