‘The Pale Blue Eye’ is a slow but meticulously crafted mystery

By Ben Konuch

“At times I believe the dead haunt us because we love them too little. We forget them, you see. We don’t intend to, but we do. I believe they feel most cruelly deserted, and so they clamor for us.”

“The Pale Blue Eye” is a dark, gothic murder mystery from Scott Cooper, the director behind “Antlers,” and stars Christian Bale as Augustus, a quiet and haunted detective who is called to investigate a grizzly crime at West Point in the 1800s. Through this dark and brooding mystery, Augustus meets a variety of eccentric characters, including the soon-to-be-famous Edgar Allan Poe, in his journey to unearth the truth of an increasingly unsettling murderer who can strike again at any moment.

Bleak and hauntingly beautiful winter visuals fill the screen as Cooper’s cinematography focuses on creating an atmosphere ripe for darkness and secrets. West Point feels claustrophobic and stifling, and cold hallways echo with footsteps unseen. The area surrounding the school is downright gorgeous with heavy snow coating the forests and clear blue water cutting through the trees in rapid rivers. Despite the beauty, there’s something about the world of “The Pale Blue Eye” that feels haunted, like the world itself is mourning and holding onto a secret too heavy to bear. It’s an oppressive atmosphere, and it’s captured expertly in order to enhance the film’s story.

The plot itself is a slow burn to the fullest extent, as the story progresses very little in the first half of the film. Instead, it takes the time to delve into its setting, its concepts and its characters, especially its depiction of Edgar Allan Poe. Poe is eccentric, dark, funny, suspicious and trustworthy all at once, and “The Pale Blue Eye” needs you to understand who he is and how he works in order to invest in its plot. On the other end, Christian Bale’s Augustus is a quiet, solemn man who has a brilliant mind but is held back by an agonizing event of the past, and his history is almost as much of a mystery as the murder that’s rocked West Point. Both Bale and Harry Melling play Augustus and Poe fantastically, with Melling’s performance especially stealing the show as Poe in a way that’s unsettling, electrifying and utterly captivating.

Harry Melling shines in the darkness as a mysterious Edgar Allan Poe

As I mentioned, the first half of the plot is very slow, and can very easily dissuade potential watchers from giving it the chance it deserves. “The Pale Blue Eye” does have a rough start, but its second half and the way it unfolds its mystery makes it immensely worthwhile. It’s difficult to explain why the film’s payoff is so enjoyable without spoiling the experience itself, but I will say that its revelations and developments are what you’d least expect in the best way possible. Its twists and turns make so much sense and leave you kicking yourself that you never saw them coming while still fitting together to show a clear and intricate picture of deceit, death and darkness.

I thoroughly enjoyed “The Pale Blue Eye,” but unfortunately its pacing is far too slow to count it as a masterpiece of its genre. Even as someone who enjoys the slow burn I found my attention wandering, and can’t help but wonder if there were ways to accomplish its character and world-building while still keeping the plot and central mystery in larger focus. I would still recommend “The Pale Blue Eye” to anyone who is a fan of mystery or period pieces, especially with how satisfying its ending left me, but I wish its beginning half and latter half weren’t so unbalanced.

Because of this, I give “The Pale Blue Eye” a 7.5/10

“The Pale Blue Eye” is now streaming on Netflix

Ben Konuch is a sophomore Strategic Communication student and an A&E writer for Cedars. He enjoys getting sucked into good stories, playing video games and hanging out with crazy MuKappa friends.

Images courtesy of Netflix

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