Released: 6th January
Seen: 8th January
Last year I reviewed a little film called Raven’s Hollow which asked the question “What if Edgar Allen Poe tried to solve a murder that would feel right at home in an Edgar Allen Poe story?” and it was quite OK, it was a good movie that did pretty much what you would hope a film might do with that basis and that was about it. Indeed in general the best thing that can be said about it is that apparently, it might’ve started a mild trend of films where Edgar Allen Poe has to deal with the messed up shit that is found in Edgar Allen Poe stories, which could be a fun genre to play in and while The Pale Blue Eye is certainly trying to do something interesting with the idea, it doesn’t quite do it right.
The Pale Blue Eye begins with a horrible murder, a young man who was part of the United States Military Academy has been found hung in the middle of nowhere with his heart surgically removed. Such a crime is truly heinous and must be investigated by a great detective, Augustus Landor (Christian Bale) who enlists the help of one of the young cadets at the academy, that being young Edgar Allen Poe (Harry Melling). Soon more and more cadets start turning up dead with their organs missing and Augustus and Edgar must work together to find out who is doing this and stop them.
As far as gothic murder mysteries go, for the most part, The Pale Blue Eye does the job quite nicely. Its dark tone and foreboding atmosphere are powerful and gives the film a sense of style that really carries the entire thing. The main two characters are great characters to follow, any time they have a scene together it’s a genuine joy watching these two talented performers just bounce off of each other with ease. Every single frame of the film just screams ‘gothic murder mystery’ and it’s strangely fascinating to watch as they go on and on, never really managing to lose that specific tone.
There is the inevitable question of “Why is this about Edgar Allen Poe?” and the truth of the matter is that it seems like it was just there for name recognition because you could pretend this character was named “John Smith” and it wouldn’t matter because the story in no way requires this to be the famous author Edgar Allen Poe. It doesn’t even look like him (or at least not like the image we all know to be Edgar Allen Poe) so why? Well, because the writer of the book thought it’d be fun to have Poe as part of a mystery and that’s about all it needs.
This isn’t to say that the performance of Edgar Allen Poe isn’t good, indeed despite neither looking or behaving as one might expect Poe to look and act like it’s hard to deny that Harry Melling makes a meal out of what he’s been given. You almost wish that he wasn’t restrained by the lie that this is meant to be Poe so it could just be its own thing instead of being compared to this literary icon for no good reason.
That’s just a mild problem though in comparison to this film’s big issue which, sadly, is that the final act is just not very good. It’s the kind of film that has a big climactic ending that might be silly (and it is) but does the job and then we have to tack on another surprise twist ending that comes with a dramatic backstory (including rape, for no damn reason) and ends up being kind of anti-climactic. It’s not a fun surprise reveal like the Knives Out movies have, at least those twist reveals make sense in the grander narrative but in The Pale Blue Eye (a title that also makes no sense) the twist reveal is just there because these kind of films have twist reveals and it’s not good.
The vast majority of The Pale Blue Eye is an interesting gothic detective story that’s fairly easy to digest and will probably keep you entertained for an hour and a half… such a pity that the film is 2 hours long and that remaining half an hour is head scratchingly stupid. It doesn’t use its core concept of “Crime story but with Edgar Allen Poe” well at all and just hopes that the two lead actors can carry everything on their backs… fortunately they kind of can, but they can only get the film to just OK when everything about this should be something great.