A Haunting in Venice ⭐⭐
In post-World War II Venice, Agatha Christie’s detective Hercule Poirot, 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. Out in cinemas on Friday.
This is Kenneth Branagh’s third Agatha Christie adaptation, following on from Murder on the Orient Express and Murder on the Nile. Both times I went to watch those film full of anticipation at star-studded premieres, excited by the prospect of a good whodunit and both times I was left rather underwhelmed and I thought the films were just about passable.
This time I came prepared, and kept my expectations low to avoid any disappointment… The not-so-stellar cast this time around made me more suspicious than ever.
Sadly I have to report that my expectations were all met and A Haunting in Venice, despite being the most stylish, is also the dullest of the lot.
The film tries so hard to be creepy and scary that it often forgets what people came in for: to be entertained by a good story, a mystery to solve and a gripping twist.
Instead Branagh gets lost in a style that seems to belong to another type of film altogether.
Visually, this seems like it wants to be more of a gothic horror than anything else. All the clichés of the genre are in place: Dutch angles (where the camera is slightly skewed), dark shadows, wide distorting lenses, spooky figures dressed in black, earie sound effects, echoey children’s rhymes, and of course the omnipresent loud sudden musical stabs which makes sure you keep awake throughout the slow proceedings.
These are just some of the baffling directorial choices, which are probably just trying hide the fact that the overall story and its characters are pretty weak.
The fact that the cinematography is really, really dark (just look at the photos of this review, to see what I mean) doesn’t do the film any favours. Sometimes it’s even hard to see what’s going on, to the point where more than once I thought there was probably something wrong with the projection in my cinema.
It’s one of those obvious examples of styles over substance… or rather in this case, the style is the substance, because underneath that darkness, there is very little at play.
If somebody turned on the light, there would be nothing else of interest to watch.
Some of it was so over the top that my audience (arguably made up mostly of film-makers and Bafta members) actually laughed out loud.
On the production design, the film is undoubtedly very strong. But beyond the always very evocative Venice, which serves as a gorgeous backdrop (you must be a complete incompetent to be in Venice and not make it look stunning!), most of the action takes place inside an old palazzo, with probably the most confusing geography I’ve ever seen in any film: characters seem to appear and disappear out of nowhere according to whether the ploddy script needs them or not.
Most of them are hardly set up, while others are so slight and unengaging that you might forgive me for not even remembering who they were only two hours after watching the film.
Finally the best actors in the cast are so under-utilised that it’s easy to feel a bit cheated too.
Ironically, it’s Tina Fay who manages to steal the show for most of her screen time, but she’s clearly acting in a different type film and her modern sensibility makes her stick out like a sore thumb in a period film, however entertaining she is trying to be (and possibly she is).
In the end the slow pace, the excessive darkness, the lack of interesting characters and a pedestrian, dull (and actually a bit predictable) plot makes this a real bore. It’s the shortest of the trilogy and yet it felt interminable (and the woman snoring next to me, made it feel even longer).
Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick, and a co-creator of the Chiswick In Film festival.
A Haunting in Venice comes out this Friday in cinemas across the country.
See all Andrea’s film reviews here: Film reviews by Andrea Carnevali