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Review: The Pale Blue Eye (2022)

One thing Christian Bale is gonna do is grow an unruly beard.

Netflix really astounds me sometimes. Astounds me in the sense that I don’t understand how they expect people to care about their programming when they do hardly any marketing for it. Yes, when they have shows and movies they expect to be big hits like Enola Holmes 2 (2022) or Wednesday (2022 – present) they pull out all the stops, but when it comes to projects that are less likely to be hits like The Pale Blue Eye (2022), you won’t catch a whisper of it. I recall seeing ONE YouTube video where star Christian Bale mentioned the then upcoming movie at the very end. After watching The Pale Blue Eye it became abundantly clear to me why Netflix didn’t bother promoting this truly unimpressive and utter borefest. 

Credit: Netflix

Based on Louis Bayard’s novel of the same name, The Pale Blue Eye follows Augustus Landor, a renowned detective who is hired to investigate the murder of a military cadet. In an effort to get the cadets to speak to him, he enlists the help of one of their own: a young man named Edgar Allen Poe.

Admittedly my knowledge of Poe is low (look, a rhyme in honour of the poet) and I haven’t read Bayard’s novel, but I am completely clueless as to why Edgar Allen Poe is a part of this story. It’s not as though he has specific skills that Landor puts to use and the movie doesn’t end with Edgar declaring, “now that I’ve helped solve that mystery I’m going to become a poet!” So, what was the point? Perhaps there is solid reasoning to be found in the book. On that note, this is a pretty obvious statement but I’m sure the novel version of The Pale Blue Eye was a much more entertaining and captivating read than the movie version was to watch. When I heard that this movie’s plot involved a murder mystery, elements of horror and Edgar Allen Poe, I had a strong feeling that this was going to be a story I gravitated towards. I mean, the movie begins with a quote by Poe, the silhouette of a hanged man and then the movie’s title in an old-timey blood-red scrawl all of which is catnip to me. So with an intriguing premise and a strong opening I had reasonably high hopes for The Pale Blue Eye. But after just getting about 20 minutes in, I declared it to be fairly disappointing and a waste of a great premise. While it’s no wonder why Netflix decided to release this underwhelming movie in January, I think I’d like to try and give the book a chance. Yep, you heard it hear first folks: In a shocking turn of events, the book is often better than the screen adaptation! 

The Pale Blue Eye is a classic case of “good source material, bad execution.” How can this Victorian-set mystery that frequently references witchcraft and the occult be translated into such a flat, boring drama? Poe would be delighted with the grim and macabre tone but I think his pride in the movie would end there. I thought this movie would have all the deliciously creepy vibes of Sleepy Hollow (1999) but sadly The Pale Blue Eye is nowhere near as entertaining. At its very core a mystery story should generate intrigue and The Pale Blue Eye fails to accomplish that. I truly could not follow a word of this alleged mystery. Every character, the majority of which are a bunch of pasty, boring old white men, speaks in the same deadpan tone barely above a whisper. I swear, I had to turn the volume on my laptop all the way up. The dull delivery coupled with a drab colour palette and uninspired costuming and production design had me struggling to stay invested in the story. I kept hoping that the movie would lean in and go fully creepy but it never did. Instead The Pale Blue Eye insisted on committing to being as bland and lifeless as possible. 

I found it pretty comical that all of these English actors like Christian Bale, Timothy Spall and Harry Melling were all playing Americans. I don’t know why exactly, that just tickled me. So, can we talk about Harry Melling for a second? Here’s the thing: He’s a great actor whose portrayal of Poe is undoubtedly the highlight of The Pale Blue Eye but oh boy…what a bananas performance. It’s not at all bad, just…bananas. Odd choices were made. For starters, he looks ridiculous with that enormous military hat sitting on top of his teeny head. Melling is also doing the most with this performance. His American accent sounds like he’s trying to imitate Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc but Craig’s ridiculousness doing that accent makes sense for the Knives Out movies (2019 – present). The Southern drawl just sounds out of place in The Pale Blue Eye. Gillian Anderson’s accent work is also laughable, by the way. OOF and I was flummoxed by Melling’s wide-eyed stare that reads less as “I love you” and more as “I’m going to kill you.” By the way, check out my reviews for Knives Out (2019) and Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022), here and here

Credit: / Netflix

If you have the inclination to watch a mystery with a detective with a bizarre American accent, I recommend one of the Knives Out movies. If you want to watch a Victorian mystery that’s actually spooky, go ahead and just watch Sleepy Hollow. You could even go ahead and watch all three of those movies back to back to back and it would still feel shorter than sitting through The Pale Blue Eye. This tale of Poe gave me nothing but woe. 

Have you seen The Pale Blue Eye?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!


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