Poe is a hard nut to crack. An enigmatic figure of melancholic prose with a life (and death) as dark and mysterious as the tales he wove, is a coveted character in modern-day storytelling; whether to emulate or downright fictionalize. Films have attempted to insert an imagined Edgar Allan Poe in their cinematic prose before- I’m looking at you The Raven (2012 film starring John Cusack as our dear Poe), and have nary captured the true essence of the most notable voice in gothic horror.
“-a compelling mystery and one of the best fictionalized interpretations of Edgar Allan Poe we’ve ever seen”
The Pale Blue Eye, written and directed by Scott Cooper (Black Mass, 2015), and based on the 2003 novel of the same name by Louis Bayard, again assumes the lofty gauntlet of capturing Edgar Allan Poe’s flamboyantly morbid effervescence on celluloid. And instead of creating a snapshot of the most commonly remembered Poe — a depressed lovelorn alcoholic whose erratic behavior escalated until he was ultimately found in a gutter only to soon after die of mysterious causes — The Pale Blue Eye spotlights a young Poe during his early military career; optimistic, ambitious, and with his strange quirks all the more endearing.
English actor Harry Melling (Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter films) wears this fresh-faced college-aged Poe like a second skin. He’s equal parts charming and strange, perfectly smug in his immaturity, and love-obsessed in the way we know so well of our morbid poet – a performance that left me gobsmacked. With well-restrained styling to avoid caricature, hair and make-up department heads Autumn Butler and Lori Guidroz transformed Melling, capturing Poe’s iconic high round forehead and the weird curls that formed around his ears and neck. The costuming by Kasia Walicka Maimone is equally as transformative (with an extra layer of decadence displayed on our female players).
Even when paired with the never-a-bad-performance Christian Bale as worn detective Augustus Landor, Melling’s Poe returns every serve, catches every spotlight, and runs away with every moment on screen.
The Pale Blue Eye finds Poe at the United States Military Academy in West Point, NY. Retired detective Landor has been called to the scene to solve the mysterious and sinister death of a student there, found hanged and with his heart cut out and removed. Landor secretly teams up with Poe, his ‘eyes on the inside’ and a natural detective himself with a knack for deciphering ciphers and ears already piqued to the macabre 24/7.
The pair are a charming duo. Even when traipsing around the solemn scenes of murder and mutilation, Landor and Poe’s bromance shines through. They are Nancy Drew and Bess Marvin, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. I never want them to solve the crime as I’m too enraptured by their chummy chemistry.
But the murders escalate and hearts continue to go missing, leading Landor and Poe down the trail of the occult to capture their suspect- but not before we are treated to scene-stealing glimpses of some other marvelous actors; Toby Jones as Dr. Daniel Marquis, Timothy Spell as Superintendent Thayer, Gillian Anderson as Mrs. Julia Marquis, Lucy Boynton as Lea Marquis, and an appearance by the great Robert Duvall as Jean-Pepe.
“- a flurry of impeccable performances, ornately decadent costuming and styling, a carefully choreographed color palette, and painting-perfect cinematography-“
The Pale Blue Eye is a flurry of impeccable performances, ornately decadent costuming and styling, a carefully choreographed color palette, and painting-perfect cinematography, all spun together by a compelling mystery and one of the best fictionalized interpretations of Edgar Allan Poe we’ve ever seen.
The Pale Blue Eye is available now on Netflix. Share your thoughts on this film and recommend to us some other great murder mysteries and gothic horrors over on Twitter, or in the Nightmare on Film Street Discord!
Review: THE PALE BLUE EYE (2023)
The Pale Blue Eye is a flurry of impeccable performances, ornately decadent costuming and styling, a carefully choreographed color palette, and painting-perfect cinematography, all spun together by a compelling mystery and one of the best fictionalized interpretations of Edgar Allan Poe we've ever seen.
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