May 29, 2024

A Haunting in Venice 2023 Movie Review

A Haunting in Venice
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A Haunting in Venice 2023 Movie Review

Director Kenneth Branagh teams up once again with Michael Green for A Haunting in Venice, their third adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot mystery novels. But while the core creative minds have reunited in fine form, it seems the detective himself (still played by Branagh) has not quite returned to himself. In fact, the movie’s plot hinges on Poirot being somewhat out of step after his retirement, and at times the story itself suffers for it. Nevertheless, A Haunting in Venice is standard Hercule Poirot mystery fare that is given a boost thanks to the stunning visuals and supernatural happenings.

Based on the novel Hallowe’en Party, the movie takes place post-World War II and finds Poirot now retired and removed from society while living in Venice. He turns away all manner of requests from those with mysteries to solve until his old friend Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey) shows up with an offer too good to refuse. And so, he is whisked away to a séance at the decaying home of grieving mother Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly) in order to prove that the medium known as Mrs. Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh) is a fake. But this is Halloween, after all, and crime follows Poirot wherever he goes.

A Haunting in Venice kicks into high gear once Mrs. Reynolds accuses an unknown guest of having killed Rowena’s daughter, Alicia, only for another guest to die moments later. With Venice flooding and police unavailable, Hercule must take matters into his own hands and dust off his crime-solving skills. This is coincidentally the weakest aspect of the movie, though it is by necessity — since the detective is faltering both due to his reluctance to step back into the arena as well his refusal to accept the existence of ghosts, the mystery element leaves much to be desired.

Branagh and his production team more than make up for that with the horror touches woven in throughout A Haunting in Venice, however. Yeoh’s eerie performance at the séance sets the stage for supernatural shenanigans, which manage to feel grounded in reality despite Poirot’s insistence that they are fiction. Though the deadly serious tone taken by nearly every character aside from Fey’s Ariadne can at times make the movie feel dour, it also heightens the tension from moment to moment and sweeps the viewer up in the ghost story playing out onscreen.

The haunted house is a strong set piece, with ethereal sounds lurking around creepy corners. Branagh is very effective at playing Poirot as both disoriented and out of his element, and the atmosphere of the Drake mansion drives the point home. However, this points to another minor failing: the house and its spiritual inhabitants (whether they are real or figments of an overactive imagination) draw more attention and are more exciting than the majority of the supporting characters. With the exception of Ariadne, Mrs. Reynolds, and Rowena, the rest of the cast seems to fade into the background even when they are vital to the narrative.

Perhaps that is part of the point, as Poirot has ceased to interact with people on a daily basis and sees them more often than not as impediments to his craft during A Haunting in Venice. Haris Zambarloukos’ breathtaking cinematography certainly suggests that each room in the dilapidated home is more significant than the people inside it at any given moment. When one focuses too much on the past and the dead, one loses sight of the present and the living — which is certainly a valuable lesson for Poirot to learn.

A Haunting in Venice 2023 Movie Review