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Film Review: A Haunting in Venice

FILM REVIEW
A HAUNTING IN VENICE
Rated PG-13
103 Minutes
Released September 15th

A Haunting in Venice is the third film adaptation by director Kenneth Branagh and screenwriter Michael Green of a mystery novel by the legendary Agatha Christie. This time, the story is based on “The Hallowe’en Party,” written by Christie in 1969. The story centers on children and their unpredictability, which can gravitate from an endearing quality to an edge of terror for adult humans and thus is often a theme in horror movies. 

The multi-talented Branagh is also a producer and stars, as usual, as the protagonist, Christie’s much-loved detective “Hercule Poirot.” With A Haunting in Venice, Branagh has decided to make a “horror whodunit.” It’s an interesting idea. However, for me, the combination of adding the jarring surprises and jolts of the horror genre takes away from the intense drama of the mystery and the cerebral machinations of Poirot. 

Still, this is an excellent movie with a spectacular cast playing fascinating and mysterious characters. The location is Venice, Italy, and the moodiness of that unique city sets the tone and embodies a character in itself. The year is 1946, just after the end of World War II, when the elation and hope brought by the war’s conclusion is colored with the sadness of its tragedy. The skillful camera work by cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, who shot Branagh’s Belfast and Death on the Nile, is darkly haunting and captures the deep, watery essence of Venice. The production design by John Paul Kelly beautifully provides the emotional atmosphere. This story has so many characters so many twists and turns, that it’s hard to gain access to a strong point of view, however.

The characters include a novelist named Ariadne Oliver, a character who is loosely based on author Christie and played deftly by Tina Fey with an angularity to her appearance, her expressions, and her attire. She is pointed and blunt, almost gaunt. Michelle Yeoh, as the passionate psychic “Mrs. Reynolds,” provides the fiery energy to counterbalance the sadness dominating the rest of the characters. Young Jude Hill is great as “Leopold Ferrier,” the son playing psychiatrist to his depressed father, whose inner agony and PTSD from his war experience are artfully displayed by Jamie Dornan. Emma Laird and Ali Khan are a half-brother and -sister from Romania whose whole family was lost in the war. There is a touching scene where they describe an upbeat American movie that gave them hope through their horrific experience. I would like to have seen more of this mysterious pair in the story. French actress Camille Cottin beautifully underplays “Olga,” the deeply religious housekeeper who yearns to be closer to God as a nun.

This movie juxtaposes the tragic somberness post World War II with the relief and joy of the war’s end. Perhaps the tortured children’s spirits trapped in the walls of the house represent the lost souls of war.

Branagh seems to have been making a comparison of spiritual and secular forces and beliefs here. It’s Poirot against the elements and the believers, and this becomes the battle. In the end, there is so much going on it’s hard to care for the one person whose killer all the characters are looking for. A Haunting in Venice will haunt you long after you’ve seen it though. It’s a film worth seeing.

Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which has been the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people.  She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. kboole@gmail.com

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