It’s easy to jump right into the world of Agatha Christie with the release of A Haunting in Venice last weekend. It’s based on her novel Hallowe’en Party and has the right amount of spooky ridden moments to sate fans of the paranormal. That’s because of where the story takes place, and I wanted to see what Director Kenneth Branagh and writer Michael Green‘s take on it would be like, since it’s all about rationalising what’s going on and saying whether life after death is indeed real.
This author does have an interest in it, but it’s nowhere like how other detective agencies approach the subject. I did not see this movie because it continues Hercule Poirot’s life as a detective on the silver screen. As much as I respect Branagh for remaking and delivering a modern polish to Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile, just how he delivers that product when I have a fondness for the originals is not my cup of tea. Thankfully this one hasn’t been adapted before, and that’s enough reason for me to go see how spooky this filmmaker can deliver the goods.
One fact is certain: Christie isn’t well known for penning tales of terror. Even though she has an interest in the supernatural, I’m fairly certain she is not a believer. Instead, what she rationalises through her stories, through Poirot, is enough to tell me what she accepts as metaphysical wonder than mumble jumble. She was certainly aware of the Spiritualism movement in her formative years. I’m fairly certain she also participated in a few sittings too for research purposes only. As a result, what she fashioned is in-line to what’s experienced as I sat in many too!
But as for whether ghosts are indeed real depends on who can see it instead of hearing. I suspect what she penned and how it got translated to film is that they are metaphors for things that are best left unsaid.
Also, I found this film an easy jump in point despite not having seen Branagh’s prior films in which he played Poirot. Although I’m not as hard core as others who have followed his films, I’m sure the portrayal is as wispy as this performer’s career. Those fans can pick apart his performance if they want. What I offer is how good A Haunting in Venice functions as a ghost story, and surprisingly, despite the clichés like “a dark and stormy night,” it’s effective.
I loved how only one person would hear the child’s song, or her muttering down the hallway, even though nobody is there. Some people may get goosebumps! As for the overuse of Dutch angles, someone should teach this filmmaker when too much is just that. He also relies on closeups to deliver a sense of isolation, even though nobody can escape the palazzo of Rowena Drake (Tina Fey). That’s because the detective decided that nobody can leave until the person who killed the medium (Michelle Yeoh) is found! She chewed the scenary like nothing, and I believe her involvement is the highlight out of the entire film.
After he exposes her as a fraud during a séance, the reason for her death becomes the new mystery. But to pin it on Rowena or other individuals present needs digging into their graves and exposing their past! There’s Maxime Gerard (Kyle Allen, the fiancé), Olga (Camille Cottin, housekeeper), Leslie (Jamie Dornan, doctor) and his son, Leopold (Jude Hill), and also Desdemona (Emma Laird, assistant). They all participated in this attempt to contact Alica (Rowan Robinson) on All Hallow’s Eve, since nobody was sure if she killed herself or something else happened.
With every terrible moment set in place, I thought there’d be some real spooks prowling about. Thankfully, this filmmaker delivers more moody moments than anything else. He also offers suggestions on where their playful sounds may have actually come from. The sound mix isn’t as good when the theatre isn’t designed for full on Dolby ATMOS effect. Only one film has truly delivered the sonic booms (The Haunting, 1999) and I have yet to find another movie to match it.
Also, I’m willing to bet this director hasn’t lived in a real haunted house, so what he’s imagining is the stuff that can really play on the viewer’s imagination. But as for who did the deed and how the boy factors in (Hill is quite effective with that raspy voice), even I figured it out near the end of the film. Although this story is based on a certain formulaic approach to resolution with the detective simply saying out loud who did what and why, I wanted something else.
All in all, this movie won’t cater to everyone. It’s more of a murder-mystery in the grandest of Sherlock Holmes tradition than a ghost story. Maybe I’ll have to pull out the cinematic adaptation of Peter Straub‘s Ghost Story to cleanse the palette for a tale to truly deliver some nightmare moments with.
4 Stars out of 5