Movies: A Haunting in Venice – Review

Spoilers

A Haunting in Venice finally finds form for Kenneth Branagh and his cursed Poirot adaption; that has at least one of its stars caught up in controversy for the past two films if not more than one. This time; he opts for a scaled down, less star-studded approach and it works wonders: taking place in the confines of a post-war Venice on all hallow’s eve there is little room for CGI; which used in its abundance, sunk Death on the Nile before it could even begin, trapping a now retired Poirot in a decaying, haunted palazzo to solve a murder following a séance that awakens the dead.

It borrows cues from the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes; but with a more sombre and formulative tone – an experienced Detective who has seen the worst of what the world has to offer grappling with the supernatural breaking his ordered and structured world. There must always be a way out. The clever usage of practical effects makes sure that nothing here feels too outlandish and doesn’t give the game away so easily: although the plot is fairly predictable; the main guessing game is how much of the supernatural is real and how much of it is not – and Branagh resists going full horror but takes delight in pushing the boundaries in one of the most entertaining tonal shifts of a movie that followed its predecessor in recent years. It’s also the first good one of these: a watchable one aware of Poirot’s legacy.

Which in turn; we look at Steven Moffat. He used much of Sherlock to play up on the fame of the Great Detective and use the reception of it against him and so too does Branagh. He casts Tina Fey as Ariadne Oliver; a writer modelled quite a bit after Agatha Christie herself, allowing for a meta commentary as an author who is stuck in a rut looking to make a killing on her next book by any means necessary and uses the case that foiled Poirot as an inspiration. There’s jokes about the previous two and how they didn’t work and Branagh has never been more aware of his own failures; learning from them – but they never detract from the story in a “well, that just happened”, kind of way as the film builds just amount the right of sincerity to make it believable and much of the negativity comes from Poirot’s deduction. Reason vs unreason; the real vs the unreal – order vs. chaos. Can there be such a thing as the afterlife? If God were real, Poirot argues – he would not break his rules for one person.

The film gives every member of the cast sufficient motives. There’s one obvious suspect early on, Kyle Allen as Maxime Gerard, the murdered girl’s ex-fiancé, and the film knows who’s likely to be the most obvious suspect and keeps you guessing. Those of you familiar with the source material will be aware of course but there’s enough of an entertainment value here despite this – after all, it’s easy enough writing Agatha Christie adaptions because you already have some of the best and most addictive storytelling of all time. Its weighted portrayal of grief and the horrors of war gives the film an edge over its shlocky jump scare counterparts, and Branagh rarely goes for the all-out assault on the senses that something like The Nun II might provide. It’s helped so much by the fact that everyone here – the cast and the director; one and the same in some cases – is on the same wavelength. Nobody is full scenery chewing, but they all get their time to have one big showcase moment in turn.

As with all films with a large cast packed inside a tight space A Haunting in Venice struggles to breathe and provide depth for all of them, but it’s adequate enough to keep you entertained in a sombre, serious way with the heavy shadow of the war hanging over its shoulders. Ghosts are real and ghosts are not – but of a different kind than you were expecting.

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