“I do consider death to be one of poetry’s most exalted themes.”Cadet Edgar Allen Poe
Sleepy Hollow for a new generation, The Pale Blue Eye adapts Louis Bayard’s murder mystery novel set during Edgar Allen Poe’s time at West Point Military Academy, the title plucked from his most famous poem, Lenore. Scott Cooper draws inspiration liberally from Sleepy Hollow’s aesthetic, with snow-covered forests providing greater chill than the film’s dabbling in occult horror. Masanobu Takayanagi’s cinematography often veers toward a blue-tinted greyscale, reminiscent of his similar natural landscapes in The Grey. In his third collaboration with Cooper, Christian Bale is reliable as ever in the role of outside investigator Landor. However, the primary reason to see the film is to experience Harry Melling’s enthralling performance as Poe — physical similarity aside, he captures the inner world of the man’s open-minded intellect and his fascination with death. The film’s dual perspective between this unlikely pair — drawn together by their intellect and isolation — can dilute its potency. The Pale Blue Eye succeeds more in atmosphere than its ponderous storytelling, the mystery unfolding adequately if not quite satisfyingly (an early clue is ignored by the characters yet subsequently proves key, whilst other information is withheld entirely). Strong performance and exquisite imagery are sufficient to maintain engagement, but The Pale Blue Eye leaves the viewer cold rather than chilled.