[film review] A Haunting in Venice

Review by Michele E. Hawkins.

A Haunting in Venice, loosely based on Agatha Christie’s novel Hallowe’en Party, has all the makings of a fine murder mystery.  It’s 1947 Venice.  A group of people who are unlikely to be all they seem find themselves trapped by a raging storm in a magnificent mansion full of exotic furnishings, statues, grand chandeliers, confusing corridors, and winding staircases.  It’s Halloween, and the dead are rising, or at least the psychic medium engaged by the hostess to conduct a séance claims she can speak with them.

Thus is the scene set for the inexplicable, including the odd impossible murder.  But a murderer, no matter how cunning, is unlikely to escape the genius of the great detective, Hercule Poirot, whose friend and crime novelist, Mrs Ariadne Oliver, has brought him to the mansion to expose the psychic medium as a fraud.

The stage awaits; a murderer lurks; mysteries arise to be solved, evils to be thwarted.  Unfortunately, A Haunting in Venice fails to reach its promised potential.  To begin, there are plot holes easily big enough to float through; Kenneth Branagh is an uninteresting and miserable Poirot, although he’s better in this than in his previous attempts at the character; there are no clues for the viewer, or indeed for Poirot as far as can be discerned, as to who the murderer is or how Poirot discovers his or her identity, unless he does so by magical thinking; and the bangs and whistles don’t make up for the lack of character development all round.

A Haunting in Venice has a gorgeous setting and a fine cast.  But, on a film that offers inspiring visions of Venetian architecture along with her famous canals and charming gondolas, and is largely set in an intriguingly decorated mansion to only dream of owning, many of Branagh’s choices as director are difficult to understand.  One such is Tina Fey’s Mrs Ariadne Oliver, who has been made unlikeable, seems to spite her old friend, and lacks the eccentricities and flair of Christie’s creation — and is an American instead of Christie’s British original.  Of the rest of the characters, the only truly compelling one is Leopold Ferrier, a precocious boy played by the talented Jude Hill.  Finally, the decision to show the inside action inside in low light, though enhancing the sense of mystery, somewhat obscures the sumptuousness of surrounds and costumes and tends to tire the eyes.

Screening at Dendy, Palace, Hoyts, and Limelight cinemas.

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