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'A Haunting in Venice' & other horrors
Kenneth Branagh's third Poirot mystery finds the reluctant sleuth wrestling with deep-seated guilt as he brushes shoulders with the supernatural.
EMBLAZONED WITH A LICK of the supernatural pyre, Kenneth Branagh’s A Haunting in Venice finds the Christie-inspired whodunit film series at its most sullen, with the handsomely crinigerous detective, Hercule Poirot (played by Branagh himself), opting for a life of recluse in Italy. Though no mention of the events in last year’s Death in the Nile is made, it’s abundantly clear that the deathly schemes he had helped to unravel also unfurl a sense of deep-seated guilt. As one character tells Poirot: “Wherever you go, death follows.”
That nugget of catastrophic belief is planted firmly within Poirot; manifesting them as ghostly apparitions doesn’t feel out of place. That’s precisely what happens here. Reticent and wanting to elude murderous mysteries, he reluctantly agrees to be roped into a private séance inside a haunted mansion. The invite is extended from the renowned fictionist and his long-time friend Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey, in a role that feels like a ‘40s incarnation of Only Murders in the Building’s Cinda Canning).
After the seance, the film eventually sheds its skin, slinking back within the trappings and conventions of a Poirot mystery. A murder happens, Poirot chases the clues, and twists and knots unspool. Before it reaches that, though, Branagh makes sure to add interesting texture to the film: intriguing ancillary characters, stark visuals, and well-crafted suspense. Altogether, it brings a complete supernatural horror experience, even if the mystery bits feel dull.
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Watch it in theaters? The best in the series so far (though that isn’t really saying a whole lot), it’s well worth a shot! ✔️
ABOUT THE FILM
🛶 A Haunting in Venice
dir. Kenneth Branagh | Horror, Mystery, Thriller | 🇺🇸
Celebrated sleuth Hercule Poirot, now retired and living in self-imposed exile in Venice, reluctantly attends a Halloween séance at a decaying, haunted palazzo. When one of the guests is murdered, the detective is thrust into a sinister world of shadows and secrets.
Other horrors I've watched this week:
Here are the rest of my horror viewings this week. For real-time reviews and quick takeaways, follow my Letterboxd 🟠🔵🟢!
☢️ Shin Godzilla
dir. Hideaki Anno, Shinji Higuchi | Horror, Science Fiction | 🇯🇵
Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi’s Shin Godzilla is a different beast. Though it delivers kaiju setpieces in spades, its blunt indictment of backward diplomacies and outlandish bureaucratic processes seems to sit on top of its mind. It’s finely crafted, with a clear vision of what it tries to achieve: to show the horrors of institutional indecision and complacency, a concept that, in a post-COVID world, hits too close to home.
I’ve watched this in honor of an action figure my partner got me. I’ve taken the executive decision to (creatively) name him Goji. Here, you’ll find Goji at the red carpet premiere of his first movie night.
🌑 My Animal
dir. Jacqueline Castel | Horror, Thriller | 🇨🇦
Queerness as a monstrous anomaly isn’t a new metaphor, one that Jacqueline Castel ensures doesn’t go unnoticed in her lycanthropic coming-of-age thriller, My Animal. The story centers around Heather (Bobbi Salvör Menuez), a young queer kid struggling to find her place in a town that actively excludes her kind. Under the helm of a less ardent filmmaker, the film might telegraph as nothing more than a mouthpiece for queer issues we’re already aware of. But in Castel’s hands, the film is an honest, sensual, and stirring exploration of sexual identity and politics.
dir. So Yong Kim | Thriller, Romance, TV | 🇬🇧
Teetering on a similar plane of amorality as Gone Girl if Amy Dunne lacked any follow-through, So-Yong Kim’s Wilderness is the pumpkin spice latte of vengeful lover stories. It’s not like the protagonist (Jenna Coleman) didn’t have the conviction to make her cheating husband (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) pay. The writing doesn’t let her take the bite, making for an altogether unsatisfying watch.
🎻 Don’t Go Where I Can’t Find You
dir. Rioghnach Ni Ghrioghair | Horror, Drama, Short | 🇮🇪
A beguiling Irish ghost story about a grieving film composer. The easy punchline is to call it “Tár, but it’s an A24 post-horror film,” which wouldn’t be untrue. It leans heavily on aesthetics and atmosphere, but it’s Marie Ruane and Juliette Crosbie’s performances that send it for me. Exquisite work by those two.
What to watch this week
A list of noteworthy horror releases coming to theaters, VOD, and streaming.
Bishal Dutta’s anticipated horror film, It Lives Inside, hits theaters this Friday, September 22nd. Watch the trailer.
👽 No One Will Save You, a new extraterrestrial thriller from writer-director Brian Duffield, drops on Hulu on the same day, Friday, September 22nd. Watch it on Hulu.
🗡️ Ben Wheatley’s 2011 modern classic, Kill List, is now available on Shudder. Watch the full movie here.
🇫🇷 The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon is two episodes into the spinoff series, with a pretty gnarly outbreak sequence set in Paris, France. Watch it on AMC+.
A handful of exciting trailers released this week, including:
Field Notes From Hell is Deep Cuts’ weekly email digest. Dispatches go out every weekend, with handpicked horror news, capsule reviews, and outlook on upcoming titles you can watch.