Review – A Haunting in Venice

A now retired Detective Hercule Poroit returns for the third entry in the modern Agatha Christie adaptations, this time around it takes a spooky turn with a haunted halloween night mystery in a dark and scary stone villa in Venice. Director and star Kenneth Branagh along with screenwriter Michael Green have teamed up to adapt a lesser known work of Christie’s 1969’s Hallowe’en Party to deliver some truly stellar results. This feels like a deliberately hard turn for the series after the problematic Death on the Nile, a fresh new cast and gorgeous setting make this the strongest film in the series so far.

After the events of the previous film, Detective Poroit has retired and is living out his days in Venice. Lines of desperate people swarm outside his residence seeking his help, it is so much, he has to hire a private bodyguard to walk around town. Poroit’s friend Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey) who has made a living by writing mystery novels centered around the detective. Oliver invites Poroit to a seance at a haunted house where Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly) is grieving the death of her daughter Alicia (Rowan Robertson). After being introduced to the medium Mrs. Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh), Poroit must once again reveal the mystery of the murder in the house and find the source of the supposed spirits who inhabit it. 

The palazzo is the site of an old orphanage and having sat in the canals of Venice for many years, has many rooms hidden and in plain sight. The tall, stone rooms leave shadows lingering as cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos knows how to make each shot terrifying as the camera pans through each room, daring your eyes to catch something moving somewhere in the shot. This ramps up as a huge storm rolls in, threatening the safety of the group trapped inside, and (possibly) uncovering more secrets. 

There are a whole host of other characters locked in by the storm including a mentally shattered war doctor Leslie (Jamie Dornan) and his emotionally intelligent son Leopold (Jude Hill). Alicia’s ex-fiance Maxime (Kyle Allen) who has been summoned to the palazzo via a mysterious letter adds some levity to the mystery along with housekeeper Olga (Camille Cottin) and Nicholas Holland (Ali Kahn) and Desdemona (Emma Laird). They all carry some form of scar from living through two world wars and this is reflected by the events of the mystery and how each character reveals their trauma through their reaction. 

It was surprising to see Tina Fey flourish in a dramatic role, while still able to add in a few Liz Lemon style zingers where the script allows it. Branagh feels the best he has ever been as Poroit, potentially due to the constraints of a well known story no longer being at play this time around. The coming out of retirement trope doesn’t feel forced in this film and you completely understand Aridne’s wording to spike his curiosity and go with her. Unfortunately Dornan is a tad lost in this story. His character is meant to be completely shell shocked and unable to deal with the world, it just doesn’t come across as well as it potentially could. He is a little too distant and distained, fortunately Hill steps in and provides an entertaining and authentic performance as Leslie’s son and now primary caregiver. 

A Haunting in Venice feels like a bold new direction for this franchise, that thanks to its solid source material and talented cast that keep showing up in each entry. Choosing a setting like Venice, bringing in a storm and an old palazzo as the setting is the perfect recipe for a Halloween movie squarely aimed at adults. While it constantly throws the question, is this real or supernatural at you, continually keeping you guessing to the very last second, it is also a reflection on the after effects of war and the lengths we go to to keep ourselves safe. Branagh and Green should continue their partnership if they can keep this quality of film coming from the classic stories. 

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A now retired Detective Hercule Poroit returns for the third entry in the modern Agatha Christie adaptations, this time around it takes a spooky turn with a haunted halloween night mystery in a dark and scary stone villa in Venice. Director and star Kenneth...Review - A Haunting in Venice
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