‘A Haunting in Venice’ assessment: Kenneth Branagh brings spookiness, however what about scares?

With A Haunting in Venice, we’re reminded that Kenneth Branagh is outlined by his indulgences. As a director, he oft casts his favourite main man: himself. As a filmmaker, his real-life ardour bleeds into twisted love tales — wherein he additionally headlines — like Lifeless Once more and Frankenstein, co-starring his offscreen paramours and portray himself a romantic hero, flawed however undeniably scorching as hell. He even turned his personal childhood into self-aggrandizing lore with the origin story Belfast. At his greatest, he welcomes us into these unapologetically extravagant movies, bursting with emotion, ruddy with ardour, radiant with pleasure. However at his worst, he turns into so targeted on his personal highlight that he can overlook to make his castmates shine. 

So was the case with 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express, which enlisted a few of the most celebrated actors of the trendy age, solely to forged them into uncanny valleys of CGI mess and a battle for display time the place solely Branagh’s meticulously crafted mustache gained. Subsequent was 2022’s Dying on the Nile, a sequel so filled with A-listers that it ballooned the price range of its predecessor — however solely made a 3rd of its field workplace. Removed from embraced, this follow-up was shrugged at by critics and mocked on-line, the place a hokey line-reading from Gal Gadot rivaled the scorn obtained for her ill-conceived “Think about” video. 


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Maybe chastened, maybe provided a leaner price range, the British director has scaled again the star energy within the third installment of Hercule Poirot’s adventures. For A Haunting in Venice, he has cherry-picked a couple of family names: Saturday Night time Stay alumnus Tina Fey, Academy Award-winning actress Michelle Yeoh, and the Oscar-nominated director of Belfast, Kenneth Branagh. Rounding out the ensemble are Kyle Allen (Rosaline), Camille Cottin (Home of Gucci), Ali Khan (Everybody Else Burns), Emma Laird (The Crowded Room), Kelly Reilly (Yellowstone), Riccardo Scamarcio (John Wick: Chapter 2), and Belfast‘s Jamie Dornan and youngster actor Jude Hill. 

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Although the forged is succesful and compelling, one thing is lacking from this Agatha Christie adaptation. And it would effectively be that Branagh is taking part in it protected. 

A Haunting in Venice tells a story of homicide and ghostly thriller. 

Kenneth Branagh in "A Haunting in Venice."

Credit score: Disney

From the opening scene, the Italian metropolis of canals is painted as a spot of magnificence and eerie mystique, because of the suave framing of cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos. Within the day, crimson rooftops stand out towards inexperienced lanes of water. However at evening, the native structure reaches up, grey and threatening, just like the withered claws of the undead reaching skyward. Right here is the place Poirot (Branagh) has come to retire from the lethal sport of murder investigation. A faithful recluse, he has employed a furrow-browed bodyguard (Scamarcio) to maintain away pesky would-be purchasers and solely interacts with the chipper boater who brings his twice-daily pastry deliveries. That’s, till his previous buddy Ariadne Oliver (Fey) seems at his door. 

A thriller author who discovered inspiration in Poirot earlier than, Ariadne pleads with him to come back to satisfy her new muse: a medium often called the Unholy Mrs. Reynolds (Yeoh). On Halloween, a seance is to be held in a supposedly haunted house — a former orphanage — the place a heartbroken opera singer (Reilly) hopes to talk to her daughter, who died younger and beneath mysterious circumstances. Some say the ghost kids who’ve plagued this place because the precise plague drove the lady to suicide. However ever the skeptic, Poirot has his doubts about all this paranormal theorizing. 

Naturally, he takes the case. Not lengthy after his arrival, the our bodies begin piling up whereas a storm rages outdoors, and shortly they’re all ensconced in a ghostly whodunnit — full with vengeful spirit. Based mostly on the Agatha Christie novel Hallowe’en Get together, A Haunting in Venice offers a spooky flourish to the world of Poirot, however Branagh swerves away from something truly scary. 

A Haunting Venice goals for old-school however lands on dusty. 

Michelle Yeoh in "A Haunting in Venice."

Credit score: Disney

Set post-World Conflict II, there is a quaintness on this homicide thriller, peppered with stereotypes just like the heiress-hunting American bachelor (Allen), the superstitious assist (Cottin), the traumatized warfare physician (Dornan), and the precocious child who’s borderline creepy (Hill). As together with his previous movies, Branagh retains the tone buoyant, whilst tales of murdered kids are whispered in cavernous settings. Shadow puppets are launched for instance the home’s historical past, their imagery repeated when recounting the haunting of the doomed girl. All of that is charming, reflecting Poirot’s personal perspective, which favors gentility and pleasure over brooding and horror. Nonetheless, it is a horror story. 

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Because the evening wears on and the deaths mount, there must be a rising concern within the chests of the viewers members. Whereas Poirot is challenged by sights he can’t clarify, we must be rippled with goosebumps. However Branagh is dedicated to maintaining it cute. Some would possibly counsel that is thematically applicable, given his nostalgia for classic Christie diversifications heavy on star energy and juicy plot twists. And but, Vincent Value made scores of films that had liveliness about them whereas additionally being rattling scary. 1959’s Home on Haunted Hill, which focuses on a home occasion affected by homicide and harsh spirits, appears a pure inspiration level! But Branagh does not dare get as unnerving as this traditional. 

As an alternative, his scares are all lobbed with a smooth contact and an unstated promise that our hero actually has nothing to concern. Dying is for the brand new characters, by no means Poirot. And in that, there is a deflation of the stress that is likely to be stoked in horror. 

A Haunting in Venice stumbles in plotting and casting. 

Kenneth Branagh and Tina Fey in "A Haunting in Venice."

Credit score: Disney

Maybe correct scares may need helped preserve this movie from dragging. As it’s, the thriller right here is just too simple to puzzle out — partly as a result of Branagh hits some clues with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. (In the event you questioned why a standard family object will get a protracted close-up, you are midway to the reply.) As such, the story begins to pull with Poirot strolling from one austere room to a different, unearthing backstories and secrets and techniques however lacking one evident ingredient. 

Right here, star energy is missed. The supporting forged is essentially strong. Reilly strongly shoulders the function of a grieving mom. Yeoh is slyly restrained as an unlikely psychic. Scamarcio’s function is skinny, however he brings bravado to it. Cottin is riveting as a glowering maid. Nonetheless, A Haunting in Venice lacks the fun of oohing and awing over an astonishing assemblage of big-name expertise. And a few miscasts make this distance from its predecessors sting. For one, Allen is so lifeless within the function of snotty American bastard that he would possibly as effectively be an AI composite. However extra disappointing is Fey, who can not seem to shake the comedic timing of 30 Rock. 

Reverse Branagh’s affected person and cerebral detective, the big-mouthed American broad with a grand opinion of herself is enjoyable. The place others marvel at his mind, Ariadne is fast to poke holes in his theories or sling barbs simply so she’s not bored. It is a dynamic that echoes the one seen in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Future, whereby Phoebe Waller-Bridge was the snarky sidekick to Harrison Ford’s grumbling, aged hero. Nonetheless, Fey suffers on this comparability. The place Waller-Bridge has been capable of translate her Fleabag vitality to the large display in roles large and small, Fey has typically struggled with the transition. Right here she is humorous, however there’s an aching air of showmanship that makes her each line ring performative, higher suited to sitcom than a characteristic movie. She will be able to’t discover the identical wavelength that Branagh’s quirky Poirot is on, and so all the pieces between them feels off

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A Haunting in Venice is the most effective of Branagh’s Poirot motion pictures. 

Michelle Yeoh in "A Haunting in Venice."

Credit score: Disney

Sure, for all my complaints, that is undoubtedly the most effective of this trilogy. Its settings really feel extra actual than the foggy backdrops of Homicide on the Orient Specific. Its forged higher grasps the fabric and the throwback tone than the ensemble from Dying on the Nile. Whereas I yearned for sharper scares, I appreciated the eerie ambiance that Branagh wafts into the primary act like a chilling fog. And although Fey feels an odd match for the movie, she is undoubtedly entertaining, particularly because the pesky fly on the wall of the prim Poirot’s course of. 

In the long run, A Haunting in Venice is a solidly partaking and infrequently stunning whodunnit. Nonetheless, as a fan of Branagh’s sweatier, more sensual, and outright riskier horror, I could not assist however want for extra. 

A Haunting in Venice opens in theaters Sept. 15.

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