Game Reviews

A Haunting in Venice turns Agatha Christie into Scooby-Doo — and it guidelines

Actor-director Kenneth Branagh is clearly having the very best time together with his Hercule Poirot films. The most recent, A Haunting in Venice, marks Branagh and screenwriter Michael Inexperienced’s third tackle Agatha Christie’s iconic detective, after 2017’s Homicide on the Orient Specific and 2022’s Loss of life on the Nile. It’s additionally the loosest adaptation of the three of them by far. Within the new film, Branagh breaks all the difference guidelines. He smashes genres collectively. He goes totally excessive, which is precisely the path that his Christie variations have been rolling towards. Branagh lastly breaks free, making A Haunting in Venice the very best entry within the sequence to this point.

[Ed. note: This post contains light setup spoilers for A Haunting in Venice.]

A group of people perform a seance

Picture: twentieth Century Studios

A Haunting in Venice is technically primarily based on Christie’s 1969 novel Hallowe’en Get together, in that it takes place on Halloween throughout a celebration hosted by somebody named Rowena Drake, the place character named Joyce Reynolds is killed, main famed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot to swoop in and clear up the homicide. However Branagh takes limitless inventive liberties, remodeling the story from whodunit to Gothic horror.

Now the Halloween social gathering doesn’t happen in a small English city; it’s in a crumbling Venetian palazzo. Additionally, common Englishwoman Rowena Drake (True Detective’s Kelly Reilly) is now a glamorous, fading opera star who needs to host a seance to speak together with her lifeless daughter, who she claims was killed by ghosts. And maybe most significantly, Joyce Reynolds is not a precocious 13-year-old however an grownup psychic who claims she will be able to talk with the lifeless. (She’s additionally performed by Michelle Yeoh.) The query of whether or not ghosts and hauntings are actual performs an enormous half on this film. It’s much less of an adaptation and extra like Branagh and Inexperienced turning a lesser-known Christie novel right into a Scooby-Doo-like haunted home thriller.

This isn’t a foul factor. It’s completely the place Branagh’s Poirot films have been main. As a director, Branagh has infamously indulged within the over-the-top nature of his Christie films’ settings — the cramped but indulgent prepare vehicles in Homicide on the Orient Specific, the luxurious steamboat cruising by means of the luxurious backdrops of the Nile. A number of the tone is exaggerated and heightened. However that’s usually been the vibe of those films, from the way in which they’re directed to the way in which Branagh performs up Poirot’s cartoonier components. (I’ll always remember the truth that he gave Poirot’s elaborate mustache a very tragic backstory within the opening of Loss of life on the Nile.)

A hooded figure wears a creepy Venetian carnival mask

Picture: twentieth Century Studios

For this haunted home story, Branagh ups the stakes on an easy homicide thriller by mixing within the query of whether or not the paranormal exists. He does it by turning the setting into a personality. This isn’t only a typical Gothic manor; no, it’s a claustrophobic Venetian manor, with lengthy, slender hallways that result in false entrances, windy balconies with views that plummet to the bottom, and iron gates that emphasize that the partygoers are all trapped right here.

The place additionally has a sinister backstory, a curse that has one thing to do with lifeless orphans and a plague, which provides Branagh a straightforward excuse to insert creepy youngsters’s songs, childlike laughter, and plague physician masks. The partygoers are trapped in the home resulting from a relentless rainstorm, as a result of naturally, a darkish and stormy evening is the proper climate for a homicide. The eerie thumping of the docked gondolas because the waves pound in opposition to the constructing’s basis provides further oomph.

A shot of a group of strangers as viewed from below. They stand in an eerie Venetian mansion.

Picture: twentieth Century Studios

It’s splendidly atmospheric and creepy, made all of the extra so by the lingering query of whether or not ghosts truly exist, and whether or not Poirot is solely shedding his marbles as he hears laughter that’s probably not there and sees the figures of youngsters mirrored in mirrors. Nonetheless, he insists there should be a logical clarification for all of the unusual occurrences. Just like the crime-solvers of the Scooby-Doo franchise’s Thriller Inc. earlier than him, Poirot should not solely clear up a thriller, however additionally show to a gaggle of prepared believers that ghosts don’t exist, thanks very a lot. (The Scooby-Doo comparability continues with the truth that this haunted Venetian manor is outwardly unsellable.) Among the bounce scares are a bit low-cost, however all the setting is foreboding and chilling sufficient with out the shocks.

A Haunting in Venice cements what Branagh and Inexperienced have been attempting to do with their Poirot films. Particularly, they aren’t as occupied with straight adapting Agatha Christie novels as they’re in utilizing her flamboyant detective and her intelligent frameworks as jumping-off factors for totally indulging in enjoyable theatricality. The 2 most well-known Christie novels are those that happen in particular unique areas. Homicide on the Orient Specific and Loss of life on the Nile each have satisfying, intelligent mysteries at their core, so including all the additional fluff, just like the garish CG units and the ridiculous performances, detracted from the tales.

However with A Haunting in Venice, Branagh goes utterly off e-book, and totally plunges the locked room thriller into paranormal horror. He’s turned his model of Poirot into a particular, peculiar character that he totally owns, then thrust him into his personal lavish mysteries. As an alternative of leaning onerous on Christie’s work (and doing it a disservice within the course of), he’s working wild and setting Poirot free.

A Haunting in Venice is out in theaters on Sept. 15.

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