REVIEW: A Haunting In Venice is a sequel unlike any other
The new murder mystery arrives in cinemas this week.
In the league of "highly anticipated sequels arriving in 2023", A Haunting In Venice wasn't exactly near the top of that list. 2017's Murder on the Orient Express was the very definition of mid, but made some serious bank at the box office. Despite the infamous Gal Gadot line-reading, 2022's Death On The Nile was about as good quality-wise, but made only about a third as much money in cinemas.
Likely sensing the already waining interest in the brand, director and leading man Kenneth Branagh has done something quite unique with A Haunting In Venice, and has pitched the murder-mystery sequel in the middle of a new genre, bringing in a supernatural element to proceedings. Ironically, the threat of the undead actually zips some life into this third go-around for Branagh's take on the stories of Hercules Poirot.
Based on Agatha Christie's lesser known and not previously adapted Hallowe'en Party, we pick up with Poirot (Branagh) enjoying his somewhat carefree retirement in Venice, which is quickly interrupted by his old friend and talented author Ariadne (Tina Fey). It turns out that Ariadne is just as cynical as Poirot, but even she is having a tough time trying to decipher how famed psychic and medium Joyce (Michelle Yeoh) is successfully conversating with the dead.
It just so happens that Joyce will be hosting a seance in Venice that very same evening, so Ariadne and Poirot head along too, in an attempt to debunk the mystic arts. Joyce will be attempting to contact the daughter of Rowena (Kelly Reilly), who passed away recently in tragic circumstances. Also invited to the seance is Rowena's doctor Leslie (Jamie Dornan), his young son Leopold (Jude Hill), Rowena's housekeeper Olga (Camille Cottin), and the dead daughter's surviving boyfriend (Kyle Allen).
It turns out Rowena's home is infamously haunted, her daughter warned of hearing voices and seeing things within the building prior her death, and before the seance is over, one of the guests in the home has been violently murdered. With a severe storm outside marking no means of escape, Poirot locks the building down and tries to get to the bottom of the mystery.
A Haunting In Venice is surprisingly creepy in places
With the introduction of the supernatural element, between Joyce's apparent mystical abilities and the abundant jump scares to be found within the crumbling Venetian house, it transforms A Haunting In Venice from what could have been just another murder-mystery-by-numbers into something much more entertaining.
Branagh brings in composer Hildur Guðnadóttir, who has previously provided some haunting work for Joker and Chernobyl, and she scratches the surface of this entire movie with icy, unsettling soundscapes that set the mood perfectly. Additionally, cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos switches up his visual style by utilising off-putting fish-eye lenses and swirling, weightless camerawork, almost as if you're watching the movie through the eyes of an ever-present ghost.
All combined, while it isn't exactly going to leave anyone with some sleepless nights, it does successfully create a better sense of dread and atmosphere than recent blockbuster horrors like The Nun II, and while not everyone in the cast is given equal amounts to do (Jamie Dornan feels very out of place of here), any movie with the intelligence to cast both Tina Fey and Michelle Yeoh automatically gets points in my book.
And so there you have it, A Haunting In Venice ends up being one of the bigger surprises of 2023's cinema releases by being quite different and actually pretty good. Agatha Christie completed 47 stories with Hercules Poirot in total, so who knows what Branagh could do with them next? A sci-fi action-thriller murder-mystery? A rom-com murder-mystery? A musical murder-mystery? After this one, they could all be worth a punt.
A Haunting In Venice arrives in cinemas on Friday 15 September.
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