Pillbox

In conversation about 'A Haunting in Venice'

Kenneth Branagh’s latest Hercule Poirot adaptation sees him return as the famous detective once again. This time, a retired and reluctant Poirot finds himself attempting to debunk the seance of a notorious medium. But when the evening is interrupted by a murder most foul and the spirits of the palazzo’s haunted past seem once more on the prowl, Poirot is back on the case. Branagh leads an ensemble cast.

Haley Williams: Well Josh, this week we got a little spooky with it and saw "A Haunting in Venice." I don't know about you, but I was having a phenomenal time throughout.

Josh Arabia: Knowing you, I think that’s to be expected. I was a little less enthusiastic about the whole thing, but I still think the movie had some good moments and some interesting things to talk about. Where do you want to start?

HW: So definitely one of the high points for me was the cast. I think everyone in the film really held their own, even having to share the spotlight in so many ways. For me though, Tina Fey’s Ariadne was the standout.

JA: You know, I was struggling to figure out how I felt about Ariadne for most of the movie. I loved Fey’s fast-talking, sharp-tongued interpretation, but at the same time I felt like the writing really had to limit all that to let Poirot shine. Fey makes Ariadne feel almost too clever for what the movie ends up needing her for, if that makes any sense to you.

HW: Without giving too much away, it felt like Ariadne could absolutely have matched wits with Poirot as equals, and not getting to see that was disappointing (I wanted to see that #girlboss winning, you know). That being said, I think she could’ve played nicely against Poirot if Branagh interpreted him slightly differently. Poirot in the books, even though he is a master detective, is still a silly and quirky little guy. I don’t get so much of that with Branagh’s Poirot, who’s definitely more serious and stately. The vibes just aren’t correct.

JA: I think you mentioned something similar right after we got out of the theater. You said it struck you that Branagh was trying to turn Poirot into a more brooding, tortured-soul sort of character, and I think that sums it up well. It really feels like we get two Poirots in this movie. There’s the fun, pithy one we see in the opening half hour or so, and the serious, businessy one we see when the mystery kicks in. Frankly I like the first one much better.

HW: On a more positive note, I thought this movie really did well playing up the horror elements. There was a really good creepy vibe throughout, and the spooky aesthetics of the set and the film as a whole were a big plus for me. There were also a couple of jumpscares that really got me–

JA: Every jumpscare really gets you.

HW: –True, but that’s not the point. “A Haunting in Venice” does a phenomenal job giving us a detective movie dressed up as a ghost story.

JA: I think it’s pretty clear that Branagh is a big fan of classic horror movies. The cinematography for this movie is full of shots and camerawork that makes it feel right at home in the genre. You and I especially appreciated the repeated cutbacks to the typewriter and the palazzo’s resident parrot as a way to build a sort of rhythm to the action.

HW: Oh my God, huge shout out to the parrot. Live bird reaction is one of the things that has really stuck with me after the movie, and I think we need him to come back in the next installment. Another huge shout out to the cinematographer and editors though — get those people a raise, they really put in the work here! There are all kinds of creepy and ominous shots, weird camera angles, complex framing, and it all comes together really well to help set the mood of the movie.

JA: Rundown time, do you have any last thoughts to share, Haley?

HW: I always have so many thoughts, Josh. I loved how they portrayed Poirot’s steady unraveling as he got more and more frustrated with the case, complete with multiple runs to the bathroom to calm down (he just like me fr). There was also a really sweet father-son relationship that I think we both loved. Plus, we wouldn’t really have a Poirot movie without the “And this is how it all happened” scene to tie everything up at the end, and it’s always going to be one of my favorite parts.

JA: I’m glad Branagh is showing us how to do an adaptation that doesn’t necessarily copy from the original bit by bit. Kelly Reilly, Jamie Dornan, and Michelle Yeoh all deserve shout outs for bringing something unique and interesting to the table. And I was a huge fan of the mystery within a mystery within a mystery concept, and watching the whole puzzle box unravel (a certain Tina Fey eyebrow raise comes to mind).

HW: Final verdict?

JA: Not my favorite mystery, nor my favorite horror film. But “A Haunting in Venice” does something unique in its blending of the two, and for that alone it’s definitely worth a watch.

HW: On the Good Time - Bad Time scale, I’m giving “A Haunting in Venice” a solid “LIVE BIRD REACTION” out of “A P P L E ?” (affectionate).


Next week, it’s all-out war between the humans and the machines with the all-new, original science fiction story “The Creator.”