A Haunting in Venice is Kenneth Branagh’s third instalment in his Hercule Poirot series, this time replacing the glamour and grandeur of the earlier two films with a darker, more gothic feel that makes this the best instalment so far.
The film follows Branagh’s Detective Poirot, who has now retired and is living a solitary life in Venice, where he shuns all visitors and requests for help, aided by his bodyguard Vitale (Riccardo Scamarcio). One day he receives a visit from an old friend, author Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey), who has been trying to discredit a renowned medium Mrs Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh). Ariadne persuades Poirot to join her at a séance so he can assist her in discovering Mrs Reynolds fakery.
The seance is being held on Halloween in the home of opera singer Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly), the site of a former orphanage which holds its own spooky past. A year previously, Rowena’s daughter Alicia (Rowan Robinson) was found dead in the canals, believed to have committed suicide, and Rowena is hosting the séance with Mrs Reynolds in a bid to speak to her beloved deceased daughter. Also in attendance at Rowena’s home are her housekeeper Olga (Camille Cotin), family friend and doctor Ferrier (Jamie Dornan) and his son (Jude Hill), and Mrs Reynold’s assistant Desdemona (Emma Laird).
After a mystery invitation also brings Alicia’s ex-fiancé Maxim (Kyle Allen) to the séance, Poirot proceeds to pull apart the staging put together by Mrs Reynolds to dupe the unwitting Drake household. However further events have Poirot and the group questioning the authenticity of Mrs Reynold’s abilities, which is further complicated when a member of the group is found dead. Bringing himself out of retirement, Poirot locks the group in the home and refuses to let them leave until he’s found the murderer.
I’ve always enjoyed Kenneth Branagh’s version of Poirot; deadpan, no-nonsense and surprisingly funny, but I’ve found his films don’t quite match up to the potential for the character. Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile were long, ridiculously over the top and glamorous with casts that were wasted on the material and pretty absurd endings. A Haunting in Venice is by far the best out of the three, but it’s still far from great. It benefits greatly from having a shorter run time of well under 2 hours, and the stunning streets and canals of Venice make for a beautiful yet simple setting.
The gothic, darker nature of the story in general also makes for a welcome change to the previous stories and I think this type of storyline works much better for Poirot, it’s just a shame that the cinematography spoilt the overall feel. The setting in the home itself was suitably dark and gothic, but Branagh’s fondness for dodgy camera angles ruined the feel of this for me as it took away from the creepy, tense atmosphere. The main problem with this film is that it just doesn’t take the horror aspects of the story far enough, Branagh could have gone to town on the creepy, dark scary setting and atmosphere and this would’ve made for a much more engaging film.
The cast here is smaller than in previous films and a bit of a mixed bag. Michelle Yeoh seems wasted as Mrs Reynolds with very little to do, whereas Tina Fey’s wisecracking American authoress makes for a wonderful foil to Branagh’s straight-faced Poirot and their verbal sparring proved to be the most entertaining moments of the whole film. I also think the ending was a bit of a disappointment. While I’ve never read Agatha Christie’s original book, Poirot seems to make some impressively ridiculous deductions to work out whodunnit and the worst bit is that it’s not a surprise or particularly unpredictable.
Overall, A Haunting in Venice is certainly the best of the Poirot films to date but it still falls short of being memorable or particularly good, despite Branagh’s rather wonderful portrayal of the character.
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A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I’m not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills – Bake Off here I come!