A Haunting In Venice
Onto the next release of the weekend and I decided to watch and review the sole English theatrical release this week titled A Haunting In Venice. The film is the third in the ‘Agatha Christie’ series after The Murder On The Orient Express and The Murder On The Nile where we see Detective Poirot returning for another case. There is something about the Agatha Christie stories that have successfully caught the imagination of generations and generations to come! The element of holding the ‘mystery’ until the very end while enticing the readers to play the guessing game themselves is by no means easy. And that is something that Agatha Christie had mastered while leaving behind her legacy for the ages.
While the novels of Agatha Christie are absolute classics, the onscreen adaptations are that much more difficult, given that the medium offers only a limited time span wherein you would need to set the premise, nail the event of the murder, gather all the suspects and lead the viewers on in the investigation. And often this is the skill that most makers search for, to strike a right balance while allowing the viewers room to don the hat of the investigator. And hence movies like Knives Out have successfully made a transition which would have made Agatha Christie proud. That said, I was keenly interested in A Haunting In Venice which deliberately seemed like a genre shift from an out and out mystery to elements of horror being splashed across the storyboard. So then does A Haunting In Venice manage to impress, lets find out.
Story & Screenplay
Based on the novel Halloween Party, A Haunting In Venice follows the story of an investigation underway following the murder of one of the guests at a Halloween party. Who is the killer? The story here has all the ingredients for a tense murder mystery but one thing that sets it apart is the element of horror sprinkled in its narrative. There seemed to be a conscious genre shift in the franchise that went from a leisurely afternoon watch to a tense narrative with a nail-biting premise. The screenplay standing at a shade under 100 minutes is taut and crisp and makes for an incredibly good watch, however I did feel that atleast 10 minutes could have been added to the overall runtime.
The drama does open on a rather bright note with respect to its setting. The place is the beautiful street of Venice as suggested in the title of the film, where a brightly lit day welcomes the protagonist, a detective who is now retired and out on a vacation. A strange turn of events follow after he bumps into his old writer friend who invites him to a Halloween party which is themed around a seance. The atmospheric setting changes from the bright blue skies to shades of grey with a storm brewing in the background that ticks all the boxes for a lip-smacking murder mystery that soon kicks in.
The writers had a major challenge of setting up things and introducing the main characters/suspects before rounding off the premise with a murder. And to a very large extent, the writers were successful in implementing the same. The setting itself was so well implemented that it was half the battle won, there and then. Soon, the elements of the supernatural kick in followed by a murder and that is when the mystery finally finds its voice with everyone around being a suspect. One flaw in the screenplay was that not all characters had a clear motive to carry out the crime which was committed years ago. But the underlying theme of people being disturbed with death along with the elements of the supernatural were extremely well explored, particularly the latter that accounted for atleast a couple of solid jump scares!
The mystery in itself is a little weak as it doesn’t quite paint a very clear picture of the character motivations. Yet, the setting itself is so powerful that it is able to hide some of its flaws with some indulgent conversations throughout the narrative. The stakes in the drama threaten to rise before the final act that leads to its grand reveal in a manner that seemed to be rushed. But once again, the atmospherics save the final act to an extent wherein you do enjoy the element of fear that is lurking in the corner. The conscious attempt at shifting genres was the differentiating factor in this whodunnit that does manage to impress despite its flaws.
Dialogues, Music & Direction
The dialogues are conversational but quite purposeful with the point that it was willing to convey. The BGM is spectacular and it contributes tremendously well to the atmospherics of the drama. The cinematography and editing are extremely polished and used to perfection wherein both keep the mystery in the drama alive until the very end. Director Kenneth Branaugh does a fascinating job in focusing on the external elements in the drama that eventually overpower and save the day, given the mystery quotient which was the weaklink in the drama. The direction is pretty good here in building upon the tension that is prevalent in the drama.
The performances are stellar by the ensemble cast even though characterization remained an issue with respect to the characters. Michelle Yeow as Joyce has her moments to shine. Ali Khan as Nicholas and Emma Laird as Desdemona are decent in their respective roles. Jude Hill as Leopold and Jamie Dornan as Leslie are excellent and definitely leave a mark. Kyle Allen as Maxime and Camille Cottin as Olga are fabulous to watch. Kelly Reilly as Rowena is top notch and manages to shine as well. Kenneth Branaugh as Poirot is in his elements yet again but he does showcase some of his vulnerabilities that makes him human. This human touch did set his character apart from his other two outings of the franchise in a good way. He was excellent to watch here.
A Haunting In Venice is a spooky murder mystery with a splash of horror that makes for an enjoyable watch. Available in a theatre near you.