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I thought I'd kick the new year off with another movie marathon. I thought it was time to check out a few old school mystery flicks. Som...

Friday, February 2, 2024

A Haunting in Venice (2023)

I’ve been loving these Kenneth Branagh adaptations of my favorite Belgian Detective. I’ve already covered Death on the Nile and need to get around to covering his first crack at Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express. Though this time around things are a bit different since A Haunting in Venice is a bit spookier with ghosts and a haunted house. Should be a good time. 

Set not long after the end of World War II we find the detective retired and living in Venice. He has a former police detective as a bodyguard who spends most of his time keeping potential clients away. After establishing his routine, we then see an old friend, author Ariadne Oliver, show up. She wants his help in disproving a medium who she hasn’t been able to debunk. This leads them to being invited to a Halloween party to be followed by a séance. The place is cursed and the current owner, Rowena Drake, lost her daughter to the supposed ghosts. She threw herself off of the balcony and into the canal below. 

After some spooky fun with children attending a Halloween party which allows us to meet all of the characters and establish their history with one another. The medium arrives, played by the always awesome Michelle Yeoh, and things get rolling. I suppose this isn’t too much of a spoiler, but Poirot quickly exposes her as a phony but not before something very weird happens. She speaks in the dead girl’s voice and says something that makes one of the other guests nervous. How do we know that? Well, she ends up dead, skewered on a statue in the Piazza’s courtyard. The rest of the movie is another murder, interviewing suspects, collecting clues, and trying to figure out what is going bump in the night. 

This is my second time watching this movie. My wife and I were able to catch it in the theater while on vacation a few months ago and right from the start I knew it was deserving of another watch. The story is solid and moves along quickly introducing characters and setting up the mystery right away. On this second viewing I was able to see the subtle clues that are provided to the audience to help them solve the case before Poirot does. I’ll not lie and say that I picked them up in the theater as I was surprised by the solution. I’ve even read the book this is based on, Hallowe’en Party, though to be fair this is a very loose adaptation. In fact, it is barely recognizable. But that isn’t a bad thing here as the story we do get is clever and keeps the audience guessing. 

Excellent Cast
If you haven’t figured it out yet from the title as well as the setting of the party but this movie leans into the spooky stuff. I was wondering how they were going to manage this as the character of Poirot is normally grounded in logic and reality so how does one introduce supernatural killers to that world without is seeming forced. I’ll not spoil it here. What I can say is that there is a logical explanation for everything that Poirot sees as well as a supernatural one. It is left up to the audience to decide and that was neatly done. 

The cast is wonderful. I’ve already mentioned Michelle Yeoh but there is also a surprising performance from Tina Fey as Ariadne Oliver. She is excellent in the role, and I think that the writing and direction (from star Kenneth Branagh) leans into her skills and personality. Branagh is great again in his third outing portraying the mercurial character with just the right amount of anger bubbling under the surface with some sadness as well. He doesn’t suffer fools but will forgive quickly and we see both here. Though I still consider the great David Suchet my favorite in the role Branagh is growing on me. 

Murder on the Orient Express had some amazing visuals while Death on the Nile not so much. This time around the filmmakers outdo themselves. From a digital camera following Poirot around while he runs thru the halls trying to discover the cause for a loud disturbing noise to some excellently framed shows that are tilted at a slightly off-putting angles this is a visually interesting watch. The lighting as well as the setting of the old house in the middle of a thunderstorm makes for a creepy vibe. What is so clever though is that the story plays into both possible explanations for the supposed supernatural happenings. Are there ghosts or is there another more mundane explanation for the goings on? I love it when the production and screenplay work together like this. 

Not sure I can say much more without giving away spoilers. I loved A Haunting in Venice, so I don’t want to do that. This is a wonderful mystery that will engage the audience. Be warned this is the sort of movie that is going to make you pay attention if you want to get the full enjoyment out of it. So put down your phone and keep both your eyes as well as ears open. I highly recommend this one. 

© Copyright 2024 John Shatzer

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