Mucking with Movies: ‘A Haunting in Venice’
A limp noodle horror remake of Clue
Mucking with Movies
I can find something to love about most movies. Perhaps because I grew up on Hollywood films, rewatching classics until the DVD got too scratched up to play again, but watching anything will conjure up happy memories that I will then impress upon whatever I am currently watching. Even with the subpar ones, there are things to highlight or to at least admire.
Filmmaking is an incredibly difficult endeavor and the achievement of a finished film should be celebrated alongside any critique. But, it is the movies that believe they are reaching for something greater and fall short that truly offend me. The ones that think they are transcending art and are doing something on some higher plane but fail are what I deem bad movies. “A Haunting in Venice” takes itself so seriously it cannot be redeemed.
At this point, I feel genuinely bad for Venice, Italy. It had been chewed up and spit out so many times by Americans on tourist boats with cheesy pink dolphins painted on the side and movies that do nothing with one of the most uniquely gorgeous cities on planet Earth that it has become a glorified foreign Disneyland.
“A Haunting in Venice” wastes its setting, its space, and is a waste of time. Filled with stars, hardly a good performance can be found. I believe that actors are only as good as their writers, writers are only as good as their directors and directors are only as good as their actors. Round and round the circle goes. Here, writers fail the actors and actors fail the director.
This is a bit ironic as director Kenneth Branagh pulls double duty playing the main character Detective Hercule Poirot, and as director, he pulls off a couple of really cool things. When scenes are shot in rooms; personal libraries, bedrooms, and grand hallways, fascinating spaces are created coupling production design and camera angles. When paired together they can make the frame feel full and three-dimensional on a two-dimensional screen. It is one of the most difficult things a director can do, and Branagh should be applauded for it. It is the only thing that makes the film not a total chore.
Tina Fey came out of semi-retirement to give the single worst performance of her career. Playing mystery novel author Ariadne Oliver, she gave an all-time awful opening line reading and then somehow only got worse. At times she took on an old-timey American affliction with phrases that are straight out of an early 1900s parody speak, then at other times the accent would disappear entirely. An annoyance, almost every line she speaks is meant for a laugh but I chuckled exactly once. Not a good ratio. Maybe she was poorly cast or maybe she just doesn’t care to try much anymore. If you look closely you can actually see the easy paycheck in the reflection of her brown eyes.
Every time the movie neared competency the writing torpedoed it. The story was adamantly anti-supernatural then it was supernatural and then it wasn’t supernatural and then it was supernatural and that went on ad nauseam. Everything took a little too long and made too little sense. Confusing plot points that should have been expanded upon were explained away frivolously to move onto unnecessary character exposition. The story could not move forward because it was too busy digging away trying to grow the whodunnit plot. A few decent jump scares were sprinkled throughout but you didn’t fear any ghosts or any of the people and a horror-mystery story should have at least one of those things. It all led to a predictable twist that ultimately becomes a false finish and then the eventual true reveal is just as lame. It’s the one you least expect so of course it is the one you most expect.
Branagh is a remarkable director. He has been trusted with big-budget superhero flicks and indie darlings and has mostly delivered with money-makers and critical acclaim. I want to see more movies from him but his biggest fault thus far has been his inability to work with actors. Bringing out the best performances from your performers can elevate a movie to that prestigious plane artists shoot for when they refuse camp. But for now, “A Haunting in Venice” is a clunky under-directed mess.
Critic Score: 3.8/10
Jack Simon is a mogul coach and writer/director who enjoys eating food he can’t afford, traveling to places out of his budget, and creating art about skiing, eating, and traveling while broke. Check out his website jacksimonmakes.com to see his Jack’s Jitney travelogue series. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org for inquiries of any type.