A Haunting in Venice is the now third Agatha Christie Poirot adaptation that Kenneth Branagh has made. After directing two of Christie’s more well-known novels, he has now turned his attention to the lesser-known story, ‘Hallowe’en Party’. He has released it just in time for Halloween and even given it a slight horror edge, which will go down well in October.
I will stress again, just like for Death of the Nile, I have not read the book it is based on. Thanks to Dominic Noble’s YouTube channel, I am now aware of many of the changes and admissions of previous adaptations, so if you’re curious about that, I would recommend his videos. However, I’ll be reviewing this as a film of itself.
Of course, I want to avoid spoilers, especially since it is based on one of Christie’s lesser-known books. It’s fairly obvious that this is still a mystery story, despite trailers possibly leading you to believe it is a straight-up horror. It is a pretty by-the-numbers detective story, in fact, I actually kind of guessed the plot twist from the trailer (well, I guessed the answer, but I got the method wrong…).
The basic plot of the film revolves around Poirot, having now hidden in Venice after the events of Death on the Nile had shaken him personally, and now attends a Halloween party thrown in a rich family’s house that used to be an orphanage. Poirot is invited by his friend and book writer, Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey). At said party, the owner of the house, a mother whose child died a year prior, has invited a medium named Mrs Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh) to do a seance, but the seance delivers unexpected results, and she is found dead, having been pushed and impaled. Poirot proceeds to lock the building and investigate himself.
It’s very much a by-the-numbers Agatha Christie story. If you’ve seen the previous two movies, it’s not very different. Branagh’s direction is still pretty evident, if you’ve seen his other films, he pretty much revels in theatricals, and it’s pretty front and centre here.
The horror aspects really come from your typical jump scare-heavy horror movies. It’s a lot of alleged ghosts appearing and disappearing, and various weird noises are being heard. If anything, I felt like the horror element of the movie distracted from the mystery elements which were way more interesting.
You obviously have a cast of suspects including friends of the family, the daughter’s ex-fiancé, the staff members that helped the medium, and the family doctor (because Christie seems to insist that there be a doctor at every place at all times in her books.)
If you’re not aware of the result because you haven’t read the book, it does do a good job of building up the mystery. One thing I’m thankful for is that Branagh doesn’t make the film so dark that you can’t see anything in the cinema. I’ve seen so many films recently that overdo this and as a result, you can’t see anything.
The performances are also pretty good for the most part. Branagh is still his infectious self as Poirot but has to change the character a bit to keep up the progression from the mending of Death on the Nile.
The biggest surprise for me was that they haven’t gone nuts with an All-star cast this time- of course, in hindsight, Death on the Nile’s casting went down pretty badly with the casting of Arnie Hammer and Russell Brand, but there are not as many recognisable actors this time.
Of course, there’s Oscar winner Michelle Yeoh (and I’m very happy that I can now say Oscar Winner Michelle Yeoh), but mostly the recognisable faces for the public right now would be Tina Fey and Jamie Dornan. I think that everyone gives great performances, Jamie Dornan probably gave us the best performance of his career in this movie, and I would also say that there is an excellent performance from Jude Hill, who plays his son, and does a pretty good job playing the kid who seems to know more than he’s putting on.
If I were to complain, I think it would be about the fact that while I did enjoy the mystery, I think that it is the weakest one, or at least the one with the most predictable result. But it’s also the fact that the film has to balance being both mystery and horror, it feels like there are two visions that don’t always work together. I did actually appreciate that the film did highlight the methods that fraudulent psychics can use to scam people since one of the things that has brought Poirot into the party is to assess the medium.
The film’s ending definitely suggested that Branagh probably could do more Poirot movies, but I think he may be taking a step back in future.
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