‘The Academy Crimes’ (The Pale Blue Eye) is a new gothic thriller from the director of ‘Antlers’, which will have a limited theatrical release on December 23 before being available on Netflix on January 6, 2023. A promising adaptation in which Christian Bale becomes a kind of forensic detective, in the style of ‘The Alienist’, at the military academy where he studies Edgar Allan Poe.
Lately, the whodunit has returned with force, after the triumph in theaters of ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ (2017) and ‘Knives in the Back’ (2019) and their respective sequels, mystery and intrigue have carved a place for themselves in the screens and television, and in this case a period setting is added and the leading role of the literary master of horror, Edgar Allan Poe. Although this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a portrayal of Poe on screen as a detective, we’ve already seen John Cusack investigate murders based on his work in “The Raven.”
It is curious that now his figure is receiving a new value, after his appearance also in the ‘Dickinson’ series, but it is the first time that we see the writer long before his fame as one of the great Gothic writers, but also of detective fiction, whose work would be a great influence on writers like Arthur Conan Doyle, HG Wells or Stephen King, although it is not the first to do so this year. The B series ‘Raven’s Hollow’, which also explains his early years at a military academy, delves into supernatural terror to explain the famous poem.
Correccion academica y “look Netflix”
If that is a modest film, it is much more compact than this new effort to show the enigma of the poet, based on the 2006 novel of the same name by Louis Bayard. This takes place at West Point, in 1830, where a cadet is found dead and after arriving at the morgue, it is discovered that the young man’s heart has been skilfully removed. Fearing irreparable damage to the fledgling military academy, its leaders turn to a local detective, Augustus Landor (Christian Bale), to solve the murder.
Hindered by the military’s code of silence, Landor enlists the help of one of his own to continue the case, an eccentric cadet with a disdain for the rigors of the military and a penchant for poetry: a young man named Edgar Allan Poe (Harry Melling). Long before the writer became an icon, ‘The crimes of the academy’ shows his first beginnings, making him participate in what could be one of his detective stories, taking as a reference that he actually served in the United States Armed Forces. USA for 7 months at West Point, although the film is not based on any actual concrete event.
The film has great costume design, hair and makeup, but what stands out is the perfection of Poe’s portrayal by a mesmerizing Harry Melling, who not only holds his own against the towering Christian Bale, but becomes the Reverse reflection of a commissioned job by the former Bruce Wayne. Beyond this, the film is presented with television photography that does not correspond to the 76 million budget, making oppositions to confirm that many Netflix productions have a characteristic look.
A missed opportunity
A crisp, washed-out visual palette lends the look of an expensive soap opera dragging along with bombastic scenes of unrefined dialogue, lackluster editing, and an exaggerated length for the number of events taking place onscreen. Everything is correct, starched and with aspirations of “period” cinema that slaps itself with the gothic, mysterious and evocative nature of the bloody murders, at times it is as if you were watching ‘Sleepy Hollow’ directed by a Ridley Scott wannabe from the third age in his third film shot in a year.
A pity, not only because of the number of possibilities to orchestrate a great homage to Poe and the origins of his obsessions, but because the source material itself has a couple of very effective twists that come here when we have witnessed an emotionless mystery, which He even misses the elements of ritual murders and juicy esoteric elements, from which he seems to constantly flee to show them only when necessary.
‘The crimes of the academy’ ends up being the typical standard Netflix movie, loaded with a good cast and an expensive production design that does not shine on the screen, stingy in the staging except in the wide open shots and with an exaggerated duration that invites you to disconnect by ironing or doing the agenda for the next day. We will have to wait for the platform itself to premiere the long-awaited adaptation of Poe’s work in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ by Mike Flanagan, in his latest collaboration with the streamer. With missed opportunities like this they will miss him.