A Haunting in Venice (2023)
September 16, 2023 6:38 PM - Subscribe

In post-World War II Venice, Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh), now retired and living in his own exile, reluctantly attends a seance. But when one of the guests is murdered, it is up to the former detective to once again uncover the killer.

Branagh seems to be using the Poirot films as a way to let his inner ham run free in his senior years. How much you enjoy this one will depend a lot on your taste for old Hollywood tricks and emotional registers (do you think Orson Welles is vastly overrated? you won't like this one). Personally, I could've kicked off spooky season with worse. I just wish he would let his actors deliver his lines with a slightly more naturalistic cadence.
posted by praemunire (16 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I am a big Agatha Christie fan, but it has been a while since I read the source novel (Halloween Party.) I think I recall the bare outline of the plot — of course it was not in Venice, etc etc, but that doesn’t matter at all. Nice to see a rarely adapted novel of Christie’s get this kind of treatment.

I thought the location was beautiful— and made sense as a followup to the two other films set in interesting/scenic places. Very much fulfilled the “it was a dark and stormy night” vibe— and I loved that it mostly took place just in the palazzo on one long night.

I also appreciated the long-standing tradition of casting these kinds of all-star Christie whodunnit films with actors of one nationality playing something completely different — the fantastic Camille Cottin as “Olga Seminoff” and a guy who could not be more American as a chef named “Maxime”.

The young boy did a great job as a child having to parent his father suffering from war induced PTSD.

The things that struck a false note with me were one: the attempts at bringing in the supernatural — even though it was sort of explained by hallucinogenic honey (sure…) but they also tried to have a “… OR WAS IT…?” sort of ambiguity, which felt very anti-Agatha Christie.

Two, I didn’t like the treatment of Ariadne Oliver as an author who would do anything to boost sales. I always enjoyed her as a character in the novels where she appeared— always with Poirot if I recall correctly. She was an author insert where Agatha made fun of herself. I am a bit surprised that the Christie estate allowed it — although only a die hard Christie fan would have an opinion on it, I suppose.

Overall, enjoyable — beautifully shot— well acted — and a plot delightfully bonkers in the Christie mode…
posted by profreader at 2:18 AM on September 17, 2023 [2 favorites]

I’m a big fan of hammy Branagh (and, yes, I like Welles, too) so this looks very attractive to me.

I will say, though, when I see a commercial this movie, the intercuts between Branagh and Fey are jarring as all hell, just because the entertainment side of my brain doesn’t allow them to exist in the same space (unless it’s a comedy. Only then does my brain says “yes.”)

And then add the quick scare bits that feel lifted from a modern horror show, and the movie feels like someone’s taken Poirot and dropped the character into a completely non-Christie story.

Admittedly, that’s all from a commercial, though. Still looks fun, and I’d love to see it.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:22 AM on September 17, 2023

I had the same reaction to Tina Fey — although once the film was underway it wasn’t as jarring. She managed to fit in to the world all right— although I felt like surely there must have been a British actress of similar age who could have done the role. (Actually my pick would have been Toni Collette — not British but could have embodied the scattered energy of the character — although again that is Ariadne Oliver as portrayed in the novels.)

And the attempt at trying to be in the “elevated horror” genre (vaguely Conjuring-esque) made me go hmm… not very Christie-ish…but I see what they were trying for.
posted by profreader at 6:33 AM on September 17, 2023

(and, yes, I like Welles, too)

Welles is all over this one, from the presentation of Venice (see his Othello) to the use of deep focus for elaborate composition to the Dutch angles (which is less him than Sir Carol Reed, but it's not like people remember Reed when they think of The Third Man). I think Branagh loves old Hollywood showmanship, with its artifice, much as Welles did.

I had the same reaction to Tina Fey — although once the film was underway it wasn’t as jarring.

Definitely felt the same way watching the trailer. I'd say it's a bit of a problem for the film that she's doing a 30s screwball comedy delivery in a film set tonally and literally about 20 years later. Admittedly, the temptation must have been irresistible.

I've actually never seen Orient Express, having nearly choked on my popcorn when Branagh first turned around at the end of the trailer and revealed The Mustache, and I thought Nile was kind of a mess, but he does put something enjoyable in these adaptations. I also do think he should get credit for the quiet cross-racial casting/character choices, with Yeoh as "Joyce Reynolds the American medium" and nothing "Oriental" about her, and the Romani kids, who are tough because they have to be, but also dreamers longing for the simple pleasures of St. Louis, Missouri.
posted by praemunire at 10:11 AM on September 17, 2023 [5 favorites]

I enjoyed the first two Branagh Poirot movies, but I think this was a big step up in quality. This review from Matt Zoller Seitz covers a lot of what worked well for me.

I enjoyed this as an adaptation of a book that, in my opinion, would make a terrible script if you tried to come at it straight. They kept some character names, the idea of a children's Halloween party, and the general idea of the motive, but jazzed up the setting and simplified the plot. I liked the references to the novel plot, like the Garden of Eden clock and the forged codicil discussion with the new client at the end.

I didn't mind Tina Fey's take on Ariadne Oliver - making her a little cut-throat both made her a plausible suspect and gave her interactions with Poirot a fun dynamic. Also, since we learn that her career is in a bit of a slump, it made sense to me that her dialogue "style" was a little out of date.

Having Poirot bob for apples was the biggest misstep for me. I would have had someone else do the bobbing for apples if they wanted to keep that plot element from the book. A little too whimsical for Poirot, I think.

All in all, made me want to attend a spooky party at a decrepit palazzo, so mission accomplished.
posted by the primroses were over at 5:36 PM on September 18, 2023 [2 favorites]

Enjoyed this very much, made me want to rewatch DEAD AGAIN (1991) which appears to be on Prime currently, so yay. Emma Thompson would’ve been a fine addition to this cast, by the way.

I actually thought Tina Fey was great in this role. There was wonderful platonic chemistry between Fey and Branaugh.

You should definitely go read the Matt Zoller Seitz review linked in the comment above mine.
posted by edithkeeler at 5:44 AM on September 23, 2023 [1 favorite]

I rewatched it this evening and it felt more coherent on a second viewing. One thing I did notice--Poirot twigs to the Oliver-bodyguard conspiracy in part because the bodyguard lied about never having been in the palazzo before. Except...I don't remember having heard a line like that either time I watched the film. The first time I thought I just missed it, but the second time it was something I was semi-listening for, but still didn't catch. The only thing I remember the bodyguard saying between the meeting with Oliver and arrival at the palazzo was something like "there it is, the Palazzo [whatever]. In Venice, we say that every house is either haunted or cursed."
posted by praemunire at 2:01 PM on September 23, 2023

I had the same reaction to Tina Fey — although once the film was underway it wasn’t as jarring.

Huh - maybe this is a weird Kenneth Branagh thing. I had the same whiplash with his Frankenstein over John Cleese being cast in a serious role as Viktor Frankenstein's professor or something.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:06 AM on October 9, 2023

John Cleese being cast in a serious role as Viktor Frankenstein's professor or something.

This is the guy who cast Keanu Reeves as the villain in Much Ado...
posted by praemunire at 8:16 AM on October 10, 2023

I thought it was fine, and perhaps the best of these so far, but something about it felt... not very well directed? The jump scares all felt incredibly obvious and overdone, as someone who has seen a lot of horror they were all pretty poor examples of them.

The mustache was toned down, though after the last film I thought he had learned to love again and had shaved? It continues to be a ridiculous aspect of these movies.
posted by graventy at 9:40 AM on October 10, 2023

I found this to really start dragging after the first half and I liked the first two movies. I felt it was one of those movies that should have wrapped up at two hours instead of going on. Well, it is only 104 minutes, so why did it feel so long?
posted by soelo at 4:30 PM on October 13, 2023

Olivia Rutigliano is enthusiastic about the movie for Crime Reads, but the box office has been extremely disappointing, so this may be the best and the last of these Branagh Poirot adaptations.
posted by the primroses were over at 6:22 PM on October 18, 2023

Now streaming on Hulu.

I enjoyed the first two Branagh Poirot movies, but I think this was a big step up in quality.

I concur. Probably not coincidentally, this is the one that is least focused on having A-listers in the cast. Having actors who could disappear into their roles makes a huge difference
posted by 1970s Antihero at 2:48 PM on November 12, 2023 [1 favorite]

Branagh seems to be using the Poirot films as a way to let his inner ham run free

What are you talking about? Branagh was utterly restrained here. There weren’t any dutch angles at all!
posted by 1970s Antihero at 3:57 PM on November 12, 2023 [1 favorite]

Like the best Agatha Christie, all the "supernatural" stuff could be explained by using the little grey cells. (Also, like an episode of Scooby Doo.) I didn't get to see it in the theater, so I believe people who thought it looked really good there, but on my tv it definitely looked cheesy at times, and those camera angles felt very forced. I did appreciate the way several characters had been shaped by the horrors of WWII, which is a very Christie detail. Overall, perfectly enjoyable.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:06 AM on January 15

For the world's greatest detective his efforts don't seem to amount to many convictions.
posted by ckape at 8:47 PM on February 4

« Older AEW Collision: September 16, 2...   |  Foundation: Creation Myths... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments