31 Days of Horror – October 31st – “A Haunting in Venice”

Well this is it. We’ve reached the end and the big night is finally here. I think sitting here tonight I realized that one thing I would do differently in the future is perhaps have a better plan for a finale to something like this. I don’t have a real problem with a slapdash thrown together catalog over the majority of the month. I know myself well enough to understand that if I had really plotted out the entire month that there would be days I’d rebel against even my own direction. I’d plan on a movie on a particular day and then when it came time to watch it, I’d not be in the mood for that kind of movie. And because of that I’d either swap it out in defiance or potentially ruin the experience before it even started because i didn’t want to watch that particular movie. So the fluidity to move about throughout the month really works for me in this process.

A Haunting in Venice IMDb

I always watched something I hadn’t seen and was listed as a horror movie by someone other than myself. So the rules, as meaningless and arbitrary as they were from the onset, were followed all month. But getting to the finale meant I’d really done something. I’m well aware that the time stamp on this review will read a couple of days into the future but the experience still took place on Halloween night. And as I sat here with the boys asleep in their beds, I couldn’t help but think that I wanted something somewhat special to mark the occasion. I didn’t want something new just to be difficult. it wasn’t that I felt like I needed to do something big either. I really just wanted the finale to be a treat so I was zeroing in on films that were new. I know I’ve done a couple movies here and there that were even from this year. But I felt like I wanted to mark things with a real studio production of something that had recently come out. I toyed around with The Nun II and Insidious V: The Red Door. But I couldn’t pull the trigger on either of them. I’m sure I’ll see them at some point and they may even make it into the collection because I can be that silly completionist sometimes. Ultimately I had settled on the most recent Hercule Poirot vehicle, “A Haunting in Venice”. Anecdotally I was quite happy that I utilized JustWatch.com briefly before I made my $20 purchase on Vudu where I normally store my digital collection. I noted the price and felt compelled to see if perhaps it was first available on MoviesAnywhere to see if a cross platform sale price would make a difference. Since the movie is featured on MoviesAnywhere I went to JustWatch.com to see if purchasing it at any other digital retailer might be cheaper. That was when I found it had JUST joined the streaming service Hulu that day. So I was able to watch a brand new release for free which was quite nice.

I suppose as somewhat of a caveat to whatever level of “reviewing” I’m doing here is this nugget of info I feel compelled to share as well. I don’t know how much of this movie I may have missed due to dozing off. I don’t believe it’s much but I did watch this film late enough in the evening and I caught myself on a few separate occasions nodding off a bit. I won’t say that’s entirely due to the viability of the film, but I also can’t deny that this film does move quite slowly in it’s pacing. And even for the provocative frights they try and insert to keep things on track, what I was coherent for did have a penchant for losing my interest at times. I will also note, as some sort of afore mention to this all that I enjoy the character of Hercule Poirot and even the portrayal of said character by Kenneth Branagh. If I had my drothers, as they say, I’d probably pick the classic David Suchet as my quintessential Poirot. But I might be getting ever so slightly in the weeds as well as pretentious. So I digress a bit. These just feel like notations in the margin of this virtual diary entry that seem important to a degree.

Once again, because of the newness of the movie, though the source material is quite aged but probably well outside the popular culture zeitgeist, I’ll refrain from simply diagramming the plot in my review. I’ll try and stick to things about the movie and the experience that I either enjoyed or didn’t as a measure of my overall enjoyment of the film. The first thing I’ll note is the cast. Of the three Agatha Christie films featuring the character of Poirot, I do feel like this movie is the most weekly cast with notable actors. I’m not sure if this hurts or helps the film but it does make me believe that the studio had less faith in this film than the others. I could delve into budgetary allocations or even research this a bit. But that’s not what we do here. I’m shooting from the hip. Frankly having seen all three films at this point, Death on the Nile is by far my favorite. It’s the most compelling and the best acted. The cast was great and the story was well told. I won’t say that a lack of notable names definitively made this film lesser because I don’t firmly believe that. But I will say that Tina Fey and Michelle Yeoh did wonderful jobs in their respective characters but the rest of the cast felt a little bland. I don’t feel like I’m the kind of movie watcher that has to have a big fancy cast either. But I think having seen the first two films, this entry of the three does feel like it leaves a bit left to be desired because it feels under cast. The actors that played the subsequent roles did not do a poor job, by the way. It’s not an indication that everyone else left something to be desired. But I think having watched a great many British mystery shows in my time that one main thing that separates the massive catalog of television programs, many times based on the same or similar works of even Agatha Christie, are cast with capable but unknown people. One of the things I have come to perhaps expect is that when these stories are elevated to the big screen that there is to be a caliber of known actor associated with the roles as well. It could be that my pedigree is slipping and I’m simply unfamiliar with the remainder of the cast but I don’t necessarily think that’s the case. In the end, where I’m left personally on this is that this third Poirot film has a bit of a phoned in feel to it and I just can’t get around that.

With the casting out of the way, I will say that what they had to work with as far as a backdrop to the story was beautiful. The buildings and the scenery made me absolutely believe I was in the city of Venice and the tone was both gorgeous and dark. The despondent nature of the story as it unfolded was met wonderfully with the colors and buildings that fell behind the actors. Everything tonally kept me in the moment and time period we were set to be in. In conjunction with the limited special effects needed to establish a very macabre sensation to it all was quite nice. From the lighting to the weather, the cohesive nature to the individual pieces of the background came together quite nicely to frame this movie in a sincerely sinister note. Even when the parlor tricks were exposed by Poirot and those mysterious notes revealed, there were still plenty of other pieces that kept up the creepy facade well enough that you could easily stay in the moment. So I really do have to give them credit for this because I felt like this compensated quite well for some of the other elements that I found myself silently displeased with at times. And not that the whole movie was a struggle to get through in the end. There were just meandering lags that provided respite for heavy eyelids to give way instead of staying engaged. I don’t know if a different film would have garnered different results. But I do know that the trudge of this film at times did not stay steady enough for engagement to stave off weariness.

I will say that a hallmark for me in a mystery is my ability to solve it as well. I prefer that if there are deductions to be made that the information be presented to me in however subtle a fashion that when the reveal is displayed as the curtains are pulled back that I have either arrived at the same conclusion or it is pointed out to me where I failed to make a connection. Probably the most flagrant violation I hold on to after many years is in Ocean’s 12. When the plot is laid out for the antagonist in the ending of the film, we find that there is a whole plot line that is wholly unavailable to the viewer. You don’t know anything about a character on the train with a backpack courting the egg in question relative to the film’s plot. It’s the widget that has to be stolen. But we are only shown the flash in the pan that is the distraction. We are never afforded until the reveal the option to see the true nature of how the item was stolen. Because of that, I’ve always held a grudge against that film because they did not provide me, the viewer, all the information I’d truly need to figure out how the heist was completed. That bothers me. It feels cheap. If you can simply conceal how the heist was done then why am I watching. Where is the excitement. If I’m not in the mix throughout the movie and whole other plot lines are not afforded to my personal investigation as the movie unfurls itself, then I cannot truthfully play along. I just have to wait. And some of the best films have done that. The expertly written films do it the best. They are filled with red herrings and unnecessary reveals. They make me in my desire to participate in the investigation have to strain to figure out what elements are important and which ones are distractions. I have to genuinely follow through and I love that. It might make me different than a lot of viewers but I feel like for appreciators of Agatha Christie, this is very much the case. I quite appreciate the reveals at the end of the first two Kenneth Branagh films where all the elements come together when he breaks down how everything played out. What I did enjoy about this movie is that they balance a sort of supernatural element with deduction as a sort of tip of the cap to the notion that some things COULD be beyond explanation but this is not one of them. I did think that was a fun nod to the nature of this film. Ultimately it was a bit tongue in cheek for Poirot to toy around with the existence of the supernatural in regards to Tina Fey’s character. I did like that little note at the end, not to give anything special away. Keeping with the methodical nature of Poirot’s investigation but combining it with pieces he was having difficulty explaining throughout the film did make for some compelling notes but I did feel like it was left wanting a bit. Typically there is the lull in the middle where He’s attempting to piece together all the items he has to make sense of them as you are invited to do the same. By twisting in the spectral nature of this mystery there was a portion of it that didn’t fully add up which I think could have played to their favor some but overall I don’t know that it totally worked for me in the end.

If I had to give this movie a rating out of my 10 scale I think I arrive at 6 as a fair number. Part of me feels like it’s higher than my enjoyment of the film is in reality. But I have to try and parse out the fact that I still prefer Death on the Nile to this film. I’ve resolved that I need to give this film another go and I’m certain I’ll do so at some point. It may raise my feelings towards this movie or it may cement them entirely. As I’m sitting here wrapping this up I can say that this entire experiment was enjoyable even when it wasn’t. I’ve watched 31 movies this month that I’d never seen. Some were great and I really enjoyed them. Some were movies I’d been meaning to see for quite some time. Some of the movies worked quite well, even better than I’d assumed they would at times. Others were disappointments of significant failure. It was quite a roller coaster of fantastic successes and dismal regrets. I think even stopping to realize that just further validates the process though. Without the abject defeat of some films like Slotherhouse, I don’t know that I’d appreciate the heights of frightening elation I’d find in Cobweb. The bad movies serve just as much purpose as the good ones. And at the end of it all it just reminds me that none of this is ever that serious. I might waste 90 minutes on a total piece of garbage and be ticked that I even put it on in the first place. But if that’s the deepest regret I have on any particular day, I’m doing a lot better off than I may have otherwise stopped to notate. It was just a movie after all. I don’t know where I’ll go from here. Now that Halloween has come and gone once more we’ll put the pumpkins and ghosts up for now and get out the trees and the lights. I don’t think I’ll pivot directly into Christmas movies. And I don’t know that I’ll feel some need to completely pull away from horror movies. But I do have an appreciation for this time of year and what spooky season has been for me in being this kind of deliberate in what I watched. It was a good time this year and I think I’ll find a new twist to do next year for another 31 days of horror. If you’ve been with me for any part of this journey, I thank you for your time. I know I’m just a guy sitting on the other side of a keyboard somewhere out there in space and time. But the fact that you’ve volunteered your efforts to indulge my perspective on any of these films that I’ve watched is not lost on me. I greatly appreciate the quiet solace you’ve provided in traversing this October through films. So for one last time in regards to this specific adventure, until I see you again I’ll catch you on the flip side.

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