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The Pale Blue Eye review (2023) – Christian Bale shines in new horror

Christian Bale and Harry Melling take the full gothic spotlight in Netflix's new historical thriller and murder mystery, The Pale Blue Eye

The Pale Blue Eye review: Christian Bale as the detective by candle light

Our Verdict

The Pale Blue Eye has stunning visuals and talented performances; however, its script feels a touch too safe.

Directed by Scott Cooper, The Pale Blue Eye is a period piece filled with gothic sensibilities and some grisly murders. Starring the likes of Christian Bale and Harry Melling, the thriller movie, on paper, ticks all the boxes of a stylish murder mystery. However, once the eye-catching gothy aesthetic wears off and we become used to the novelty of the time period – does the detective movie stand out from the pack?

Set in 1830 in West Point, New York, the reclusive detective Augustus Landor (Christian Bale) is hired by the United States Military Academy after one of its cadets ends up dead with his heart mysteriously missing from his chest. With the help of another young cadet at the academy – Edgar Allan Poe (Harry Melling) – Landor must uncover clues, conspiracies, and solve the case before the institute’s reputation goes down the drain.

Much like the work of the gothic writer Poe in the movie, this linear story becomes dark and layered fast. With its introduction of dirty Academy secrets, Edgar’s love interest Lea (Lucy Boynton) being tied to the murder victim, and even hints of the occult, The Pale Blue Eye has an admittedly fun and dramatic script. But ultimately, its story isn’t its winning factor.

With eerily serene landscapes, and talented emotive performers blinding our senses constantly, Cooper has demonstrated his eye for visuals and crafting atmosphere – be that through his stars or his painting-like cinematography. The Pale Blue Eye delivers the gothic aesthetic that you’d expect a story featuring Edgar Allen Poe to have.

The barren and still shots of 1830 America feel existential, and as the snow falls, the anticipation of death lingers on the screen. All these elements weave into a single moody net: capturing our attention and creating a propelling sense of foreboding as the characters hunt for their killer.

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However, despite Cooper‘s great eye for visuals, The Pale Blue Eye is let down by its script. Whodunnits, while enjoyable, tend to be predictable thanks to the influx of recent movies such as Knives Out 2, and TV series such as Only Murderers in The Building. With audiences familiar with all the genre tropes and constantly searching for a red herring, filmmakers have an uphill battle in keeping us surprised with this genre – and The Pale Blue Eye’s mystery simply doesn’t meet our high expectations.

The mystery is predictable, and the horror movie’s twists and turns – despite sometimes being outlandish and bordering on supernatural – never induce gasps. The problem of predictability also filters into some of the characters’ backstories. An example of this would be when we learn the fate of Landor’s daughter haunting his dreams, as well as the dark past of the Military Academy itself. While making sure no threads are left untied, the story never strays far from convention.

The Pale Blue Eye review: Landor at the murder scene

The Pale Blue Eye is a passionate movie. We feel the pain of the characters with their monologues. We sympathise with the biting cold of the cinematography. But, we never feel the suspense that its script should inspire. Saying all of that, a predictable mystery doesn’t mean that the murder case’s unravelling isn’t enjoyable. The Pale Blue Eye, despite its main premise lacking in certain areas, is still entertaining.

As mentioned above, the stellar acting from all the cast members is effective and drives you to invest in each of their fates and feelings. Melling as Poe is especially striking, as he perfectly captures the essence of a shunned genius looking for love and acceptance – be that romantically through his relationship with Lea or fatherly with Bale’s Landor.

The Pale Blue Eye review: Edgar Allan Poe and Landor sharing a drink

Similarly, Bale captures the tortured and reserved Landor with ease, offering a layered character study of a genius trapped by the past and a downfall of his own making. With this in mind, even though audiences may be able to guess all the big revelations in the film – you still won’t regret watching it.

The Pale Blue Eye is beautiful, and its script coherent and clean. While its story may not inspire a second watch, it is a film that relishes in its tone, atmosphere and aesthetics – to the point that you can’t help but admire Cooper and the cast’s dedication.

The Pale Blue Eye is available to watch on Netflix from January 6. For more new movies, here is our guide to 2023 movies that we can’t wait to see.