January 23, 2013 -- I finally got around to seeing this dark murder mystery when I spotted in a local Redbox machine. Ordinarily, I wouldn't bother, but I'm a big fan of John Cusack, who stars as Edgar Allen Poe, so I bit, and it turns out to be a gruesome, but enjoyable movie.
Loosely based on the last days of the life of Edgar Allen Poe, America's most famous poet, and named after his most famous poem, this film is basically a straight up whodunit, as Poe is enlisted by police to help catch a serial killer who is replicating murders from Poe's books, including “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Masque of the Red Death.” The story is set in Baltimore, 1849.
Poe is in love with a lovely young woman, Emily (played by Alice Eve of “Men in Black 3”) who is the daughter of a powerful political figure, Captain Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson of “Safe House”). Hamilton doesn't like Poe because he is dirt poor, despite his success as an author and poet. He tries his best to keep Poe away from his daughter. On the eve of Poe and Emily announcing their intent to marry, a series of grizzly murders begins.
Baltimore Police Detective Emmett Fields (Luke Evans of “Clash of the Titans”) recognizes one of the murders from a story he once read, written by Poe. He seeks out Poe to help him solve the murders. Then, despite a heavy police presence, the killer manages to abduct Emily from a costume ball. Poe redoubles his efforts to help police, realizing that Emily's life depends on him outwitting the devious killer. The bodies pile up and the blood flows freely in this grim film. The killer always seems to be a step ahead of his pursuers.
The film not only touches upon themes in many of Poe's works, but it also addresses the moral question inherent in books, newspapers (films) and video games which make money from dark subjects like assault, torture and murder. Poe despairs that the love of his life may die as a direct result of the works of his own imagination. It is not a big thing in the movie, but it is rare for even this much introspection on this troubling subject in the wake of the recent mass murders in America, which has one of the highest homicide rates in the industrialized world.
This is not a particularly believable film. The devious plots of the murderer are extremely complex, and thus prone to failure due to unexpected reactions and events. The characters of Edgar Allen Poe and Emily are too modern for the time period and Poe has way too much swagger. He also acts too young and reckless for his age. Converting the reticent, bipolar, tipsy Poe into an action hero, as this film does, is almost as absurd as converting Abraham Lincoln into a vampire slayer. However, Cusack is always fun to watch and Alice Eve is very easy to watch. Luke Evans is dashing, handsome and is a dominant, forceful presence on screen. Even though this film has more than its share of dark, gruesome elements, there is also enough of a sense of playfulness in it to help make it entertaining. This film rates a C+.
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