Get yourself a group of high profile names, a gorgeous setting, and a pernickety Belgian detective and baby, you got yourself a murder mystery going.
Kenneth Branagh (Murder on the Orient Express) spooks up the screen in his third outing as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, where a grand old house on a Venetian canal holds more secrets than just crumbling foundations.
What Is A Hauntig In Venice About?
Poirot (Branagh), having grown cynical, has retired to Venice and withdrawn from working cases.
He reluctantly accepts an invitation from crime novelist and friend Ariadne (Tina Fey) to attend (and disprove) a séance from very convincing medium, Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh).
With a story loosely adapted from Christie’s novel Hallowe’en Party, Branagh takes the opportunity to lean into more genre territory.
A Haunting In Venice ‘lives’ up to its name. The ghosts of past tragedy litter the building and the movie steps into that darkness with a sustained horror angle; it’s a good long while before that foot is pulled back into the light.
The house belongs to Rowena Drake (a permanently on the edge of tears Kelly Reilly) who explains that the spirits of long dead orphans haunt the place, exacting their revenge one those who bear professional closeness to the staff who abandoned them to die.
Rowena’s daughter, Alicia, had succumbed to madness before taking her own life not long ago, hence the séance to try and contact her.
Unfortunately for her, Joyce’s contact with the afterlife points the finger of blame on murder, not suicide. Cue a hasty death by statue, and the locking in of a host of suspects.
As with Branagh’s other movies, each cast member grabs their moments to exude as much of their one sentence personality as possible.
So we have a PTSD suffering doctor (Jamie Dornan), a devout and guilt riddled housekeeper (Camile Cottin), a bodyguard and former police officer (Riccardo Scamarcio), and the hot tempered ex-fiancé of Alicia (Kyle Allen) whose breaking off of the engagement preceded her mental collapse.
Michelle Yeoh and co. ensure that their presence on screen is felt with heightened performances that add to the overarching tone of guilt, regret, and trauma.
A Haunting In Venice Official Trailer
Is A Haunting In Venice Worth Watching?
Branagh has learnt that these films work better with some degree of personal growth for Poirot himself, and A Haunting In Venice steeps these themes through him.
Of all Branagh’s depictions of the little Belgian on the big screen, here he is at his most relatable.
His wounded heart is laid bare with bitter dialogue about the predictable foulness of human nature, and the absence of any divine presence to temper it.
A Haunting In Venice represents an improvement then on setting, tone, characterisation, and unified theme.
What we are here for though – the apparition that is front and centre – is the mystery. Sadly that element is lacking, with few surprises offered up for anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the usual mechanics of mystery writing.
It may be a lacklustre case, but the investigation of it brings much of the glossy joy to the forefront.
Once again absolutely stunning set design and costumes delight the eye. The grand but crumbling palazzo in which the film takes place is as much a character is the people darting through it.
Much like the destruction that world war brought to the psyche of the people present, so too the once grand and monied building turns inward into irreversible disrepair.
This style is brought to the fore with, it must be said, some very off-putting camera work.
A Haunting In Venice subscribes to the view that atmosphere is best generated with highly skewed camera angles.
For the first 20 minutes a large number of shots place the camera very low or very high to the focal point.
Such an approach can be very effective when used to highlight key moments, but becomes headache inducing and watered down when deployed with such abandon.
Grumbles about cinematography choices and by-number plotting aside, A Haunting In Venice is arguably the best of Branagh’s big screen Poirot outings.
It remembers to find the humanity in Poirot’s hubris, and in doing so lays to rest the ghosts of the past.
Words by Mike Record
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