The Pale Blue Eye
By Lucas Allen
Based on a 2003 novel by Louis Bayard, “The Pale Blue Eye” offers an original gothic mystery story with one of the 19th century’s most revered authors at the center of it. In fact, the title is taken from a line from the classic Poe story “The Tell-Tale Heart,” so that gives you an idea of what to expect from this dark, moody story. Written and directed by Scott Cooper, this stylish period thriller will leave you freezing and not just because of its wintery setting.
In 1830 New York, widowed ex-constable Augustus Landor (Christian Bale) is called to the nearby West Point Military Academy by Supt. Thayer (Timothy Spall) and Capt. Hitchcock (Simon McBurney) for help with a special case. It seems a young cadet has hanged himself during the night, and then his heart was mysteriously stolen from his body. The detective tries to make sense of this shocking case by interviewing the other cadets, along with the academy’s Dr. Marquis (Toby Jones). One of the cadets, a young poet, Edgar Allan Poe (Harry Melling), is enlisted by Landor to help. Poe believes the death could’ve been done by an obsessed mind. Eventually, some of the clues point to a connection with the occult.
Poe introduces himself to Dr. Marquis’ family including son Artemis (Harry Lawtey), wife Julia (Gillian Anderson), and daughter Lea (Lucy Boynton), whom he pines for. However, Lea suffers from occasional seizures, which becomes a key to the mystery. There is much more to the murder than what Landor and Poe originally thought.
Fans of period thrillers, including some Hammer horror classics, will find elements that work very well in each scene. The snowy setting and crumbling interiors add to the dark atmosphere in the daylight scenes. With the nighttime sequences, the dark corners and moonlit blues easily sends a chill down the spine. It’s the type of movie to watch in the wintertime, where you don’t know if the snow that you’re seeing outside your window is just as spooky as this film.
The mystery itself is a bit slow paced, so some viewers need some patience enough to get invested in the story. It tends to reveal different leads only to head into a predictable conclusion. When it does, it’s not entirely satisfying, in spite of some horror elements that fit into the mystery. In fact, that conclusion ended an hour-and-a-half into the film with the last half-hour devoted to extending the story from the main character’s perspective. It’s nice, but it’s not wholly rewarding for patient viewers.
Like any period film, it’s elevated by its outstanding cast. Bale once again channels his dark side while making it more eerie than in “American Psycho” and “The Dark Knight Trilogy.” There’s a level of sadness and anger he’s able to deliver very well to his performance. Melling looks and acts the role of Poe wonderfully, though there are times he tends to act more like a younger Sherlock Holmes than the brooding poet. The rest of the cast also do a good job, especially Robert Duvall in a small role as an expert of the occult.
Even if the book is better, the movie version of “The Pale Blue Eye” brings it to life well enough to make it worth watching on Netflix. “Glass Onion” may be the better detective story for the streaming giant right now, but both films do find different innovative ways to keep the most jaded viewer interested for two straight hours. If anything, it could be the cure for anyone having the winter blues.
THE MOVIE’S RATING: R (for some violent content and bloody images)
THE CRITIC’S RATING: 3.25 Stars (Out of Four)