“The Pale Blue Eye” review

By Sarah Wandor
Movie Critic Columnist

I was surprised I hadn’t heard of this film sooner considering its stellar cast and amazing performances, specifically that of Harry Melling in the role of Edgar Allan Poe.

Melling does excellent work making the character charming and bringing him to life through his voice, his physicality, and his mannerisms. Everything is very particular and suits the character well. Even the smallest movements of the character speak to his innocence, sincerity and socially ineptness.

Overall, Melling’s performance as Poe stands out from all the other characters throughout the film.

The attention to word choice in dialogue is another highlight of “The Pale Blue Eye.” The script is so fitting for the time period and it immerses the viewer perfectly. The script writers paid attention to the fact that the story is set in the 1800s and wrote in the way that people of the period would talk. That level of attention is rare and is not something all writers give to what they’re working with.

Yet while these aspects of the film are executed well, they are not enough to make up for the film’s nearly debilitating flaw: its pacing. It’s not dramatic. It’s not thrilling. There is very little suspense. There is no escalation to the climax of the film.

The film employs a surreal way of telling a murder mystery which works both for and against it. In one sense, it’s simply beautiful and intriguing. Nearly peacefully so. It’s a mystery of a different sort, with a more complex level of intrigue.

This pacing style is more suited to someone who is not necessarily looking to be thrilled or heavily entertained, but who has the curiosity to solve the mystery for the sake of knowledge rather than thrill.

However, this also works against the film because it remains on a tonally even keel. Its levels of energy stay at a constant through almost the entire movie. This makes it seem boring in many parts. The mystery itself is excellent, but the way it is presented is lacking.

The pace doesn’t begin to pick up and intensify until the later quarter of the movie. Though that’s when the film is nearing its climax, there’s little energy carrying it up to that point. It feels like delaying the takeoff of a plane for so long that people wonder if it’s ever going to get off the ground.

If not for the mystery involved in the movie’s plot, you would almost think it’s a dramatic slice-of-life film.

With that being said, it’s a film I would recommend watching twice to understand in its entirety. Everything becomes clearer and you pick up on more details within the plot. Many of these little easter eggs seem really mundane and even boring during first viewing, but make it far more intriguing on second viewing.

Despite its poor pacing, “The Pale Blue Eye” is a movie I would recommend purely for its story and its deep, emotional ending. It also has interesting and charming characters which can be appreciated if you can get past its jarring flaw of slow pacing.