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The Raven: Suspense-less Thriller Based on Edgar Allen Poe’s Work
A deranged groupie has taken Edgar Allen Poe’s (Cusack) literature a little bit too literally. He goes on a killing spree using different murders from Poe’s stories as inspiration, where each murder contains a clue to the next. The murderer starts improvising though and kidnaps Poe’s girlfriend, Emily (Eve), to draw the author closer in; taunting him. The murderer orders Poe to write a story and publish it in the newspaper where he works, based on the murderous actions. In the story, Poe both immortalizes the killer and shapes his future actions.
This is a film with a decent concept that just doesn’t work out. Making a murder-mystery out of bits of Poe’s literary tales could have been pretty interesting, but it basically boils down to us hopping from one gruesome murder to the next. There isn’t even much connecting one murder with the next. Also, by having Poe translate the murderer’s escapades into fiction the film has a very strong going-through-the-motions vibe, killing any sense of suspense or tension.
The characters aren’t much better either. Cusack’s character of Poe is a depressed alcoholic with a raging ego and an insufferable sense of superiority – basically a cliché of an artist. Eve’s character Emily is pretty and, unfortunately, doesn’t get much of a chance to transcend that trait seeing as she’s stuck in a box for most of the film. Also, Poe is at least double her age and is probably old enough to be her father. Their relationship is kind of creepy and you wouldn’t be wrong in completely empathizing with Emily’s father who does his best to keep them away from each other. Luke Evans plays Detective Fields, the officer in charge of the investigation and the man who first makes the connection between the murders and Poe’s stories. He does a decent job not least because he isn’t saddled with the ‘artistic,’ heavy-on-the-synonyms dialogue that Cusack has to deal with.
At the very least, the film looks good even though it’s not as extravagant as other period films. It has a very Gothic feel with its bleak palette and reams of fog unfurling everywhere, which does manage to give the film a vaguely foreboding feel. The murder scenes are pretty gory, the costumes look good and are sufficiently showcased in the scene of a ball.
The film is disappointing on two levels: it squandered a cool concept and it ended up a completely by-the-numbers thriller.
Wally Pfister’s directorial debut – a slow and relatively complicated take on the world of artificial intelligence – falls short of the type of thrill needed to push Transcendence into the major leagues of sci-fi.
Written by a fellow first-timer, Jack Peglan, Transcendence lends its focus to Will Caster (Depp); a prominent leader of the artificial intelligence research who, along with wife Evelyn (Hall) and fellow researcher Max (Bettany), hopes that computers will one day be able to think for themselves and, inevitably, replace humans and the ill-intentioned ways of mankind.
However, Will’s radical way of thinking soon makes him a target for an underground anti-tech terrorist group led by Bree (Mara), who decide to take out the A.I pioneer by shooting him with a radioactive bullet, leaving him to die a slow and a painful death.
Not prepared to let go of her husband just yet, Evelyn reaches out to Max and manages to convince him that the only way they can keep Will and his work alive is to download his brain – and consciousness – into the system, before his body completely deteriorates.
The experiment is a success, but the new computerised version of Will is not the same man they all once knew, but a cold mechanical shell obsessed with accumulating both knowledge and power. With the help of a renowned computer scientist, Joseph Tagger (Freeman,) and FBI agent Buchanan (Murphy), Max begins to look for ways to put an end to Will, while Evelyn, desperate to hold on to the man she once loved, is hesitant to let go.
Pfister, a long-time Chris Nolan collaborator who served as cinematographer for most of his productions, definitely knows how to work the camera and manages to paint Transcendence with a crisp, pallid polish. Everything from the special effects to the choice of framing looks absolutely superb. However, its steely façade doesn’t make up for the shallowness of the story, which goes from confusing to downright ridiculous pretty early on.
In terms of the performances, the cast struggles with their underwritten roles and, consequently, feel utterly disengaged from the story altogether. Showing off a more subdued side, Depp is relatively passive and indifferent in his performance of a man who quickly loses sight of what’s right and wrong as he begins living in his own creation. Freeman and the rest of the supporting cast are underused, while Hall – as Depp’s despairing onscreen wife – is left with little to build with on the emotional side of the story.
In the end, Transcendence flatters to deceive; from the lack of onscreen chemistry and character development to the absurdity which the story quickly escalates to, this latest wannabe sci-fi blockbuster – although pretty to look at – is just a little too dull to stand with the big boys – so to speak.
Expanding from his 2006 short film, Oculus: Chapter 3- The Man with a Plan, director Mike Flanagan – along with help from writer Jeff Howard – approaches the subject of the supernatural with a considerable amount of imagination and manages to deliver some scares in the relatively unnerving ghostly thriller, Oculus.
The story follows the troubled lives of Tim (Thwaites) and Kaylie Russell (Gillan); a pair of siblings who witnessed the brutal death of their parents over a decade ago. Tim is convicted of the murders and is sent into protective custody and a psychiatric hospital, while Kaylie remains in a pit of despair without her family.
Years later, Tim is released on his twenty-first birthday and is now looking to rebuild his life and move away from his turbulent past. However, Kaylie has become convinced her brother was innocent and that something unnatural is at play.
Kaylie, who works at an auction house, has recently come across the very same oversized, 400 year-old mirror that she believes is responsible for their parents’ deaths. Moving back to their old house and installing surveillance equipment, Kaylie and Tim hope to record evidence of the supernatural being.
A Blumhouse Productions creation – the same people who brought you Paranormal Activity – Oculus, as luck would have it, steers clear of the increasingly overdone found-footage approach, despite what its trailer might suggest. Instead, director Mike Flanagan seems inspired by the horror films of the 70’s and 80’s, like recent flicks, The Conjuring and Sinister, and paints the mood of the film with a slow-burning tone of dread and an ominous fear of the unknown. The film transitions between the past and present wonderfully, all while keeping you on the edge of your seat.
Gillan, the Scottish-born actress known for her role in TV’s Doctor Who, proves to be a relatively solid lead and manages to paint Kaylie with an equal blend of self-determination and fear, while Thwaites’ doe-eyed qualities comes across as a little too sappy.
Sadly, Oculus is not without faults. The film is never fully realised as a story and although it provides its share of scare, it’s all really rather forgettable.