The Pale Blue Eye (2022) Sees Mystery, Murder, and Mayhem at Military Academy
Title: The Pale Blue Eye
First Non-Festival Release: December 22, 2022 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Scott Cooper
Writer: Scott Cooper, Louis Bayard
Runtime: 128 Minutes
Starring: Christian Bale, Harry Melling, Simon McBurney
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
When tragedy strikes, humans can come together in the best of ways but also the worst. Death has a habit of revealing the true nature of people and what secrets lay hidden in the wake.
Augustus Landor (Christian Bale) is about to discover such a thing. Pulled from his typical drunken morning stirred by the disappearance of his daughter, Landor is tasked with investigating the death of a young man at West Point Military Academy. Once there, he enlists the help of a bright-eyed cadet named Edgar Allen Poe (Harry Melling). The two work together in secret to uncover the truth behind the grisly secrets of the school.
Beautifully filmed and well-acted, The Pale Blue Eye falls victim to its tedious story and uneven mystery.
What starts as a compelling murder mystery turns into a typical period piece horror film with a slight tinge of conspiratorial revenge splashed into the plot. With the savage murder of one of the cadets prompting a renowned detective to investigate, the resistance Landor meets immediately informs the audience that the powers that be must have an alternative agenda to justice. As he snoops around more evidence mounts to something more systemic than an isolated incident.
The motivations of most of the core characters feel tenuous at best given the factors surrounding the mystery. Diving into the lore of the fictitious version of West Point, the answers have a way of becoming too convenient, almost as if the arrival of Landor is prophesized. As the mystery unravels and each person shares their reasons for searching for the truth or burying it, it gets less interesting. This leads to some jarring character interactions and eyebrow raising monologues in the final act.
Strong performances add balance to the twisty narrative and plodding pacing. Christian Bale’s performance is by far the best thing about this Edgar Allen Poe inspired tale. His portrayal of Landor makes for some riveting scenes. While Bale commands the screen with ease, the remaining cast does a fine job with their parts as well. Harry Melling’s eager take on Cadet Poe allows for some interesting conflict between himself at the other cadets. He clearly differentiates himself from the other young men while making it seem like he belongs in the military school.
Visually alluring, The Pale Blue Eye captures the dark, moody atmosphere of Edgar Allen Poe without neglecting the horror of its story. Rich in texture and scenery, this period piece thrives in its moody blue-gray ambience. Detailed scenery and costuming make the setting look lived in and realistic while highlighting the gothic influence of what would become Poe’s storytelling. Much like his tales, The Pale Blue Eye thrives in the juxtaposition between the dark nature of humanity and the beauty that surrounds or contains it. The icy winter and remote setting add to the isolation despite many frequenting the military school and the nearby town. Darkness and beauty intertwine especially once all the cards reveal themselves. The brutality of loss and the ugliness of survival mixes with fair maidens and pristine reputations. While it doesn’t quite evoke mental images of foreboding castles and near supernatural madness, it gets the job done.
A thoroughly capable film, The Pale Blue Eye succeeds in crafting a strong visual experience despite its lacking story. Bale and Melling provide exceptional performances that get to the meat behind their equally engaging characters. Unfortunately, its muddled story and obvious conclusion make it difficult to fully get behind the Edgar Allen Poe inspired tale. Dazzling cinematography and vicious murders are not enough to stymie the slow pacing and average mystery. Another fine entry into Netflix’s original horror catalogue, The Pale Blue Eye merits at least one watch for anyone who has a desire to experience a new angle on the fascinating author that is its inspiration.
Overall Score? 6/10