Relativity Media’s The Raven opens on Friday. It stars John Cusack (Hot Tub Time Machine), Alice Eve (Star Trek 2), Luke Evans (The Hobbit) and Brendan Gleeson (In Bruges) and is probably quite a bit bloodier than you’re expecting.
Last week I sat down with producers Aaron Ryder (The Prestige) and Marc D. Evans (The Strangers) to talk about this film’s long journey to the screen as well as their efforts to stay true to the more graphic aspects of Poe’s work. Please be aware that there are spoilers contained within. I decided to include them because Marc Evans explicitly stated (and is sort of back up by historical fact) that he’s comfortable with the audience knowing this stuff going in. Not to mention the fact that this information is also contained in a title card at the beginning of the film. Still – I want to give you fair warning.
From V for Vendetta director James McTeigue , “The macabre and lurid tales of Edgar Allan Poe are vividly brought to life – and death – in this stylish, gothic thriller starring John Cusack as the infamous author. When a madman begins committing horrific murders inspired by Poe’s darkest works, a young Baltimore detective (Luke Evans) joins forces with Poe in a quest to get inside the killer’s mind in order to stop him from making every one of Poe’s brutal stories a blood chilling reality. A deadly game of cat and mouse ensues, which escalates when Poe’s love (Alice Eve) becomes the next target.”
Head inside for the interview. The Raven is in theaters this tomorrow, April 27th.
I wanted to talk about the development process behind this. There have been a lot of various Poe projects trying to get off the ground, but yours made it.
Evans: I think I’ve read them all.
Ryder: People have been trying to make a move about Edgar Allan Poe, or they’ve been trying to adapt some of his stories. It’s a very difficult thing to do. You have this character with Poe who’s rather troubled. It’s a depressing story basically and it’s hard to make a fun movie like that. Hannah Shakespeare and Ben Livingston, the two writers, they used this lore of Poe where there’s a lot of books written about what happened in the last days of his life. One of the theories is that he died on a park bench alone and he was talking to a man – very much like what happened in the film. And he was saying “Reynolds” over and over. This is true, but nobody knows who Reynolds was. And that was the starting point for the writers. Who was Reynolds and what happened in those last five days? And they decided to contstruct it into a serial killer film using Poe’s stories and I think that’s a very clever way of doing it. Where you have Poe as the central character in a serial killer movie and you’re using his tales as well. They were very clever in figuring that out.
We struggled for many years, the better part of a decade, trying to find the right version of this movie. Different directors came in and out, different actors as well. Sometimes movies just have their moment and The Raven is having its moment right now.
When I first saw the trailer in September, that trailer had a Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes vibe to it. But that’s not what this movie is, this is not as broad or campy. Was there a lot of pressure to make it more like that?
Evans: We knew we couldn’t compete with the budget or scope of those movies, nor should we. I’m a huge Sherlock Holmes Conan Doyle fan and I thought what they did with that was really fun and exciting. It was fun and it was large and it has its place in our moviegoing culture. But that wouldn’t have been quite the right environment to set our story in at all. We wanted to be true to the pulp and tone of Poe. We wanted to make it fun, a good pulpy ride – but a much different ride than what you get with a Sherlock Holmes movie or something of that sort of scope. We also didn’t want it to be as insular and inwardly focussed as a biopic. That wasn’t the goal, the goal was really to ficitonalize this cool piece of Poe’s life. It’s almost set in his own imagined vision of Baltimore. It’s his home, it’s the world he probably occupied and it’s probably the way he saw the world.
Ryder: It’s a balance by design that we came up with early on. To not make it a stodgy, period piece biopic. And to also not make it an overly stylized campy romp. No discredit to Sherlock Holmes, but there is a difference. It was very obviouse to us, so we were using references like Sev7en. That was a grounded serial killer film. And in order to have that sense of fear, and for the threat to be real you shouldn’t be making so much fun of it. That’s why the movie has the impact that it does. At the same time, there’s some fun and levity about Poe. That’s what we set out to accomplish and, God willing, I think we did.
***Last Chance To Avoid “Spoilers”***
A lot of people know about him dying on the bench. In a wide release, mainstream film, you’re hoping the audience falls in love with him. But then you have to watch him die alone.
Evans: We were very cognizant of it. We actually don’t mind people knowing that going in to the movie because it sets a set of expectations. As we said earlier, for Poe to live best in our story he had to make this sacrifice to save the woman he loves. And we put the card up front [the beginning of the movie informs you of the manner in which Poe died], and people will watch the movie and not remember that we told them that. And they have a very emotional reaction to it.
That was a decision we made very early on. That was the story, if you pull on that string it falls apart. Because it’s really about how he redeems himself in some sense. A rogue without a care in the world realizing the love he has for this woman and the lengths he will go to to try and ave her. And for himself to step outside of his writer’s mind to become that hero.
Ryder: Poe was, by definiton, self indulgent. An egomaniac. He was a selfish man in a lot of regards. And I think you set the story up where he redeems himself. He does sacrifice himself to save the woman he loves. There’s no other way to end the movie and have him be the hero that he is unless he’s able to come full circle on his shortcomings and face death.
Was there ever an inclination to end the film on his death on the bench? Was the tag at the end added afterwards?
Ryder: We wrestled with the ending on this movie. Without giving away too much of the movie, we just didn’t want to end with him on the park bench.
Ryder: We think there needs to be a comeuppance and something a little more satisfying as a button to the film. That’s why the film ends the way that it does, with the people the way they are. And a man named Michael Kuna who once ran Polygram once told me, “never make the mistake of ending on a whimper when you can end on a bang.” And I think we’ve done that.