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Pru’s boo reviews: ‘A Haunting in Venice’

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Rian Hughes

Kenneth Branagh’s third Agatha Christie adaptation, “A Haunting in Venice,” has arrived and Branagh is back as Detective Hercule Poirot in his creepiest caper yet. The film is adapted from Christie’s 1969 Poirot novel “Hallowe’en Party,” and its atmosphere is appropriately spooky. The canals of Venice are filled with bird-masked boatmen, mist-shrouded docks and a murder plot. The year is 1947, and Hercule Poirot is pulled out of retirement while attending a Halloween party gone violently awry.

It’s a fine set-up for a classic whodunnit. There’s a gaggle of suspect party guests, including recent Academy Award-winner Michelle Yeoh as Joyce Reynolds, a crooked medium. The seance she and her associates have cooked up is the rationale for getting the party together; Poirot is there as a favor to his old friend Ariadne Oliver, an out-of-vogue mystery writer looking to chronicle a genuine supernatural thrill. Oliver, played by the never-wittier Tina Fey, needs Poirot there as a safety, trusting his powers of perception to confirm the fact or fiction of Reynolds’ commune with the dead. 

However, Poirot’s best efforts to reveal the parlor tricks Reynolds is employing are fruitless. The seance comes to a head with Reynolds seemingly possessed by the spirit of Alicia, the deceased daughter of the party’s host, Rowena Drake, played with nervous grace by Kelly Reilly. Reynolds claims that Alicia was killed by one of the party guests, and a few scenes later, winds up murdered herself. From there, the game is afoot.

The entire conceit feels as old as Venice itself. Setting the film in 1947 seems to have inspired Branagh to adopt an antique approach to making a mystery movie. “A Haunting in Venice” has more in common with films of the ‘40s than it does contemporary film. The cinematography supports the film’s Old Hollywood vibe. “Haunting” begins with extensive, skewed angles of the city’s architecture, like an uneasy tribute to a city frozen in time. It’s fitting for a movie about the dead. The scenery, though classically beautiful, is without life. The film seems to float dreamily from one scene to the next, slowly making its way through the plot like Venetian gondolas bobbing down the canal.

The dream-like trance the cinematography produces is compounded by the performances. Branagh’s Poirot films are historically star-studded, featuring posters emblazoned with ensembles of movie stars. However, “A Haunting in Venice” can’t boast the same. Yeoh, Fey and Branagh are the biggest names in the movie, and outside of the three of them, the rest of the cast give restrained performances in line with a sepia-toned photograph. The entire experience feels ripped from the past, like a forgotten old movie haunting theaters it should have played 80 years ago.

The mystery itself, meanwhile, is also by the books. The pieces come together in a satisfying, acceptable fashion, and each character gets their due epilogue. It’s a neat, tidy conclusion to a neat, tidy film, personified by the closing shots of Venice finally righted after their canted angles at the beginning. The plot felt as well-worn as the performances and Venetian buildings. Maybe it’s worth remembering that Christie’s novels have been around for over half a century. If a film is adapting one, it’s not necessarily its fault if it feels like previously explored territory. It has been.

None of this is particularly bad. While “A Haunting in Venice” isn’t an energetic or surprising film, it’s successful in competently crafting an atmosphere fitting for early Halloween. The horror moments in “Haunting” are tame, a taste of the scary and supernatural that’s perfect for mid-September. Halloween may still be on its way, but this “Hallowe’en party” is an old-fashioned warm-up for what’s on the horizon.

Rating: 3/5 Yosefs

 

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About the Contributors
Pruett Norris
Pruett Norris, Multimedia Editor
Pruett Norris (he/him) is a senior double majoring in English with a concentration in Film Studies and Electronic Media/Broadcasting. This is his second year with The Appalachian.
Rian Hughes
Rian Hughes, Associate Graphics Editor
Kaitlyn Close
Kaitlyn Close, Graphics Editor
Kaitlyn Close (she/her) is a senior Graphic Design major and Digital Marketing minor. This is her second year with The Appalachian.
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    BoomieSep 21, 2023 at 5:42 am

    I love how you compare this 2023 film with movies of the 40s. I feel like I know what to expect from this movie: a lazy river whodunnit.

    Reply