The Pale Horse Review

The Pale Horse, a two-part series now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, is loosely based on the eponymous book written by Agatha Christie. Those expecting a nail-biting whodunit filled with Christie’s trademark cheek, however, will not find that here. And that’s not a bad thing, necessarily, as some of the best film and TV adaptations out there drift far from their source material.

Amazon’s The Pale Horse does an adequate job with its re-interpretation of the story, although it sometimes falls short in trying to achieve the creepy, dark 1960s character piece it’s aiming for. The series revolves around Mark Easterbrook (Rufus Sewell), an antiques dealer who finds his name on a mysterious list found in the shoe of a dead woman. When the people on that list start dying seemingly innocuous deaths, Mark spirals out of control trying to figure out why, and desperately tries to solve the mystery in order to prevent his own potential murder. As he searches for answers, he becomes more and more unstable, aided in part by his own dubious acts as well as by his run-ins with three witches in the small village of Much Deeping and the slew of dead rabbits and scary straw dollies some malicious entity is leaving on his car. 

As with most good psychological shows, Easterbrook isn’t the only character going through emotional turmoil in the series—his second wife, Hermia (Kaya Scodelario) also goes through a complete mental breakdown. Early on in the show, she realizes her husband has been cheating on her (with a woman whose name was on the list, and who is one of the first to die, no less), and she handles the news with barely suppressed rage as she struggles to maintain her image as the perfect 1960s British housewife. The mental degradation of the two characters complement each other as both begin their respective downward spirals, and although Hermia’s plight is the secondary plot in the series, it is her struggle to manage her anger within the confines of early 1960s expectations that is the most compelling. 

As Easterbrook and Hermia fall apart, the story meanders forward – people on the list continue to die, and we learn more about Easterbrook’s complicated (and often sordid) past and present. Mild spoiler: none of what we learn is good, and it becomes hard to engage with any of the characters. There are some enjoyable scenes that simultaneously evoke Mad Men and The Shining as things devolve, and at a certain point it becomes intentionally unclear who we should be rooting for. That ambiguity, again, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but there’s a fine line between ambiguity and confusion. The show sometimes falls on the wrong side of that line, and by the end of the series, you find yourself not really liking anyone and thus not really caring what happens to them. 

The series does other things better though—it toys with what is real and what is not, and plays with the audience’s expectations about whether there are supernatural forces at work (á la the three witches of Much Deeping) or whether there’s some other malicious force murdering people. This uncertainty about what is real and what isn’t is one of the strengths of the show. And while the show’s focus is on psychological terror, the whodunit is still there—the reveal about who or what is causing the murders is satisfying enough, and it resolves the major questions one might have about the murder mystery. 

There’s also some satisfaction at the end in that those that did wrong get their comeuppance. (For the most part at least? The very last scene is, in a word, confusing.) And all in all, those who are looking for a dark, creepy tale revolving around a bunch of awful people will likely enjoy it. And even if that isn’t your cup of tea, there’s also witches, dead rabbits, and weird straw dollies that will creep you out and potentially give you nightmares. Did I mention that? 

***

The Pale Horse is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video. 

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