A Haunting in Venice is the best Kenneth Branagh Poirot movie to date. Thanks to great acting and classically-inspired camerawork.
A Haunting in Venice Synopsis
Hercules Poirot is arm twisted by authoress Ariadne Oliver into attending a séance—Oliver is determined to expose the psychic conducting the séance as a fraud and requires the Belgian sleuth’s help. Poirot is disinterested but nonetheless attends. The evening quickly turns deadly when a grisly, seemingly meaningless murder happens. Trapped in a crumbling palazzo with nine suspects, Poirot is forced to confront his personal demons as well as the question of, do ghosts truly exist?
I begin with declarations. I deeply enjoyed A Haunting in Venice and I think it is the best Kenneth Branagh Poirot whodunit so far. If there are more Poirot movies in the future, I hope all are made this way too.
The movie is so, so deliciously spooky. Nostalgic and classy too with its choice of canted wide-angle shots and macabre close-ups to generate suspense. I found myself constantly reminded of the horror classics of the 70s when watching.
An older, wearier, weaker Poirot furthermore provides for a hero that’s easy to warm up to. I’ve mentioned this in my 2017 review of Murder on the Orient Express. Though a long-time Agatha Christie, I dislike the Poirot stories because I find the literary version of the Belgian sleuth so insufferable and obnoxious. By downplaying these aspects and further exploring the character failings introduced in Death on the Nile, Branagh succeeded in creating a new Poirot that is still annoying but in many ways, also far more approachable and relatable. In other words, a flawed genius you can imagine yourself being a friend to.
As for the actual mystery, Haunting is a hybrid—a locked-room whodunit with rich elements of the supernatural mixed in. Markedly gothic too with the role played by the palazzo in the story.
To be honest, I feel it didn’t quite wrap up at the end. Certain events are flimsily explained. Poirot’s deduction process wasn’t illustrated. I get the impression he simply “realised” the truth.
Many parts of the middle act also bordered on being excessively talky.
But the sinister ambience and stylish acting more than compensated. The exotic setting of La Serenissima, with its rich association with the macabre, injects a rich ethereal appeal into the tale too.
To repeat, I deeply enjoyed this episode. I hope future Poirot movies by Branagh or otherwise follow the same artistic direction.
One other thing. I think young Jude Hill has the potential to be one of tomorrow’s biggest stars. The young British actor didn’t have that many scenes in this movie but whenever he appeared, he certainly left a strong impression on me.
In one scene, he delivered a ghostly taunt and I immediately thought of Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter.
Will the boy be tomorrow’s Lecter? Or Bond? Or Poirot himself? I hope so!
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