Kenneth Branagh‘s “A Haunting in Venice“: A Cinematic Reverie
Early on in Kenneth Branagh‘s “A Haunting in Venice,” the haunting melody of “Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis” transports viewers back to a bright and cheery vision of early 20th-century America. This choice of music, while incongruous with the dark and stormy Halloween night in 1947 Italy, sets the stage for a poignant exploration of how movies can sustain us through our darkest hours. But there is more to the allusion than simple nostalgia. “Meet Me in St. Louis,” a Christmas classic, also features a Halloween sequence filled with youthful anarchy. This clever reference point in “A Haunting in Venice” ties together the mischievous doings of children, both alive and dead, and provides a fresh take on Agatha Christie’s 1969 novel “Hallowe’en Party.”
A Supernatural Setting at a Venetian Palazzo
The action of “A Haunting in Venice” takes place at a crumbling Venetian palazzo that is rumored to be haunted by the ghosts of children who perished during an outbreak of the plague. The setting is supremely atmospheric, particularly for a children’s All Hallows’ Eve gathering. The owner of the palazzo, Rowena Drake, a grieving opera soprano portrayed masterfully by Kelly Reilly, invites a famous medium, Mrs. Joyce Reynolds, played entrancingly by Michelle Yeoh, to perform a séance in hopes of making contact with her deceased daughter. The film’s visuals, gorgeously shot on location by cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, capture the eerie beauty of Venice, further immersing viewers in the supernatural world of the story.
The Rational Detective Meets the Supernatural
Enter Hercule Poirot, the famed Belgian detective played by Branagh, who reluctantly steps into the house of horrors. Although retired from official duty, Poirot is intrigued by cases that challenge his strict rationalist instincts. However, the filmmakers take a delight in irritating him this time, transforming the cozy tropes of the classical detective story into full-throttle supernatural horror. The blending of genres proves infectious, as the filmmakers seize on the familiar elements of a Christie mystery and infuse them with jolting sound effects and grisly imagery.
A Departure from Faithfulness for the Better
“A Haunting in Venice” stands apart from Branagh‘s previous Christie adaptations, “Murder on the Orient Express” and “Death on the Nile,” by being the most flagrantly unfaithful to the source material. While the earlier films felt like lavish but superfluous retreads of beloved Christie classics, this adaptation wisely dispenses with one of Poirot’s less memorable cases, “Hallowe’en Party,” and ultimately improves upon it. By incorporating elements of supernatural horror, the film offers a fresh and engaging take on the detective genre.
A Cast and Crew That Excel
Branagh‘s vision is brought to life by an exceptional cast and crew. The performances, particularly by Kelly Reilly as the grieving Rowena Drake and Michelle Yeoh as the mesmerizing medium Mrs. Joyce Reynolds, are nothing short of captivating. Tina Fey’s portrayal of Ariadne Oliver, a self-parodying avatar for Christie herself, injects the film with vinegary wit and a snappier, more sardonic energy. The talented production designer John Paul Kelly and costume designer Sammy Sheldon create a visually stunning world that adds to the overall allure of the film.
A World of Grief and Deeper Resonance
While “A Haunting in Venice” delivers on its promise of supernatural thrills and impossible crimes, it also leaves a lasting impact with its exploration of grief and the lingering effects of war. Branagh‘s Poirot, a World War I veteran, bears physical and psychological scars that resonate with the rich human dimensions of the case he is unraveling. The film delves into deferred dreams, unshakable traumas, and the complexities of grief experienced by both parents and children. While the supernatural hokum may be derivative, the ghosts that haunt this movie feel all too persuasively real.
“A Haunting in Venice” breathes new life into the detective genre by seamlessly blending elements of supernatural horror with classic whodunit tropes. Kenneth Branagh‘s unfaithful adaptation of Agatha Christie’s “Hallowe’en Party” brings forth a visually stunning and emotionally resonant film. With its exceptional cast and crew, haunting atmosphere, and exploration of grief, this cinematic reverie captivates audiences from start to finish.
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