Haunting in Venice: A look at Kenneth Branagh’s latest movie

Although it is absolutely true, saying that this is Kenneth Branagh’s “best Hercule Poirot movie yet” has no real meaning.

Both Death on the Nile and Murder on the Orient Express were ludicrous.

The new project is dependably stunning to look at, plays on our demand for explanations in a clever way, and lets Tina Fey show off (which is essential given the SNL genius behind Mean Girls and 30 Rock has frequently floundered on the big screen).

Just keep in mind that it is not even close to being haunted when compared to 1970s horror films like Don’t Look Now or Death in Venice.

The fact that the source material (Agatha Christie’s brutal, horrific 1969 novel Hallowe’en Party) is not widely known and adored seems to have given Branagh and his longtime partner, Michael Green, more leeway.

The time period and the most of the plot have been abandoned by the duo.

Adriadne Oliver (Fey), a character generally recognised as Christie’s fictional alter ego, is working alongside a recognisably Hercule Poirot (the moustache is back and more resplendent than ever).

Many of the book’s themes and motifs are still there, including parents betraying children, a cherished garden, and an awful game of apple bobbing.

However, as we are no longer in Woodleigh Common, much spiteful fun is had at Christie’s expense.

1946 in Venice.

A “cursed” palazzo is where Oliver brings a retired Hercule to host a Halloween party for orphans with opera singer Rowena (Kelly Reilly), followed by a séance with medium Mrs. Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh).

Rowena’s teenage daughter Alicia (Rowan Robinson), who passed away inexplicably a year ago, is someone she desperately wants to reconnect with.

The family doctor Leslie Ferrier and his son Leopold (Belfast co-stars Jamie Dornan and Jude Hill), the housekeeper Olga (Camille Cottin), and Reynolds’ Romany assistant Desdemona (Emma Laird) are all present at the séance.

Maxime, Alicia’s ex-fiance, is also there. Poirot starts acting like a complete moron and soon there is blood on the work of art.

Let’s acknowledge the flaws in the film.

Oscar-winner Yeoh is slumming it, Dornan lacks gravitas for a speech that touches on the horrors of Belsen, and Reilly’s appearance has to be scrutinised.

If only Branagh had chosen Cate Blanchett or Carey Mulligan, the actress has a distractingly contemporary face, and the make-up artists only make matters worse.

Rowena appears prepared to give a YouTube video on how to do a smokey eye even when she is the most upset.

The screenplay is also not quite as absurd or bizarre as Christie’s writing.

The young people who make up Christie’s stories are typically painfully stupid, icy-hearted, and unreliable.

In contrast, Robinson’s impending womanhood Alicia (whose attractive image hangs on the wall and whose photogenic corpse we frequently see in flashbacks) is as uninteresting as a blank envelope, while Hill’s precocious Leopold is entirely too lovely.

However, when so much of the dialogue is witty (there’s a wonderful line about what it means to be “the hired help,” while a reference to Meet Me in St. Louis’ happy ending is both cynical and unexpectedly emotional), it’s difficult to grumble.

Talking to Desdemona, according to Oliver from Fey, had “all the charm of chewing tinfoil.”

Haha! It’s more like munching on pricey chocolates than watching A Haunting in Venice.

It’s the ideal Halloween treat—indulgent but throwaway.

107 minutes, cert.

Beginning September 15 in theatres

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