Kenneth Branaugh’s newest in the Agatha Christie inspired Detective Hercule Poroit series, A Haunting in Venice, released to streaming Halloween weekend on Hulu. The detective thriller was marketed as spookier than the prior two films (Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the NIle). But does it hold up as an adequate thriller in the packed detective genre?
The Conservative Critic asks: Is it entertaining, Does it have artistic/intellectual value? And is it liberal propaganda?
The Conservative Critic Meter Check: A Haunting in Venice
Overall Rating: Fine
A Haunting in Venice is by no means a trainwreck. It is, however, quite lacking in invention. Any fan of the ‘whodunnit’ can right away guess not only the murderer and the how but also every other ‘twist’ for which the films tries. The nearly-omniscient detective formula is a comfortable one and there is nothing wrong with it. Sherlock Holmes is a beloved favorite that never gets old. Had the story stuck more closely to Agatha Christie’s source material (her book titled Hallowe’en Party) it may not have seemed brazenly derivative and predictable.
That being said, it was a very watchable and beautiful film as the characters unravel the mystery which viewers will have guessed from the onset. The star studded cast is familiar and committed. There is nothing terribly wrong with A Haunting in Venice there is just nothing terribly right with it either.
Is it entertaining?
Rating: A comfortable formula missing necessary surprises
The story follows Kenneth Branaugh who also directed the film as Hercule Poirot, the eccentric detective who cannot be tricked as he is invited to a haunted palazzo by his long time friend and author, Ariadne Oliver played by Tina Fey (30 Rock) in Venice to prove a famous medium, Joyce Reynolds played by Michelle Yeoh (Everything, Everywhere, All at Once) is a fraud. The medium had been brought in to reach a young women who committed suicide at the palazzo not long ago. The seance triggers a series of events which leads Poirot into a mystery far greater than whether or not Reynolds can really convene with the dead.
The formula is very Agatha Christie and there’s no problem with that. Much like the campy homage, Clue, all the suspects are in one place and viewers journey with the detective to interview each one to determine who is guilty of the various murders/crimes as they’ve unfolded. This part of the film is as enjoyable as every other in the genre. However, the film departs vastly from the source material and instead chooses very tired tropes as its “twists” making the film predictable enough to be not very thrilling at all. If a viewer does not know the who and how and why within the first 10 minutes of investigation the viewer must never have seen a detective movie in their entire life.
Does it have artistic/intellectual value?
Rating: Visually beautiful
The performances are fine from several Academy Award and Emmy winners and nominees. The material simply is not good enough to evoke anything spectacular out of such a roster of talent but no one bungled anything. If anything, it’s a needlessly sad story that wasn’t really brought to life by the cast because it wasn’t very well flushed out.
The strength of A Haunting in Venice is the visuals. The scariest thing about the film is the wonky cinematography, the darkness and the ancient palazzo itself. The spooky and very beautiful visuals give viewers the creeps in a good way. The darkness of the canals and the old towering castle make for a spectacular haunted backdrop and the editing and camera work do a lot of good for the overall effect.
Is it liberal propaganda?
Rating: No Agenda
There is no noticeable political agenda in the film.
A Haunting in Venice is a fine film to watch at home if you like a little bit of a spooky story. It’s a bit sad but there is nothing political or even that interesting about it.