A Haunting In Venice Production Designer John Paul Kelly On Adding Touches Of Horror



  • In A Haunting in Venice, the house is not just a backdrop but a prominent character that adds to the suspense and mystery.
  • The production design of the haunted house was inspired by true Venetian architecture, with elements like cathedral-like spaces, secret corridors, and cloisters.
  • Collaborating with director Kenneth Branagh allowed for creative freedom to make the house and setting feel realistic and immersive, while deviating from typical horror film conventions.

In A Haunting In Venice, Hercule Poirot is living in Venice after retiring from mystery solving. Living in self-imposed exile a former associate, Ariadne Oliver, invites him to a séance where he could potentially prove the ring leader, a medium, is actually a fraud. However, when a guest is murdered Poirot will step back into the role of detective to solve the case.

A Haunting In Venice stars Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Yeoh, Tina Fey, Jamie Dornan, Camille Cottin, and Kelly Reilly. Branagh also directed A Haunting In Venice with a screenplay penned by Michael Green. The movie is an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel Hallowe’en Party.

Related: A Haunting In Venice Plot Explained: What Happens In Agatha Christie’s Hallowe’en Party Book

John Paul Kelly, production designer on A Haunting In Venice, discussed his new movie with Screen Rant. He shared his experience collaborating with Branagh on A Haunting In Venice and broke down the importance of balancing historical accuracy and driving the story. Note: This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, and the movie covered here would not exist without the labor of the writers and actors in both unions.

Production Designer John Paul Kelly Talks A Haunting In Venice

Venice at night in A Haunting in Venice

Screen Rant: I love A Haunting In Venice! The scope, the scale, the aesthetic. It’s all there! For me, it’s a perfect blend of a murder mystery and a haunted house movie. What did you look for, for inspiration when creating the haunted house for A Haunting In Venice?

John Paul Kelly: Well, it was kind of a really interesting one because the house, unlike normally in a movie, the house is a background to help enhance, tell the story of the actors. Where they came from, and so on. In this case, the house is a character. It sits alongside the actors. It’s a potential suspect. So did the house do it? So it had a prominence that was really interesting and really exciting. As a designerI kind of was waving my flag a little bit more broadly than I would normally get to. So that was fun. It’s also the house is on screen for most of the film.

I think our early conversations really were about how to keep the environment really interesting and keep an audience entertained for an hour and a half. And not bore them to death in just a cliché haunted house. That it had to create different emotions. You wanted the scary basements with the dripping walls and rats in corners and so on, but, you also had a million other ideas. So, we spent a lot of time working out what they were and how we could create from using a true architecture reference. So, what we saw in Venice of cathedral like spaces with Saracen angels looking down from 30 meters in the air.

The cavernous corridors with the enchanted forest type spaces. I like the idea of at least he had a feeling like that. A bird in a gilded cage. When a spooky house, you’re actually in a beautiful space, but because of what’s happening in the story that maybe it’s a kind of a threatening and confusing space. Following her story and so on. So, it was how to kind of keep lots of feathers in our bow really, with the movie. We stuck pretty historically, accurately to work within Venice.

We came up with the idea of maybe our palazzo had been built on the ruins of an old monastery or church or something. So that we would have an extra dimension with that. Secret corridors and cloisters, and so on. So there’s a bit of storytelling that you have to do. I think, primarily, I start with the historical accuracy of any script and any setting really, but essentially you’re a storyteller, you’re not a historian. It’s not a documentary about Venice. So creating the environment that feels right is as important as being true to Venice.

It was rewritten in Venice for a good reason. The setting is perfect for the script and these houses are that. These houses we saw when we were touring and nobody’s lived in for 100 years, because everyone who lives there dies within 20 days or whatever. So these buildings, they are the story. So, you don’t have to dig deep into your imagination to find a realistic haunted house to build. A lovely set to build. Ken wanted the whole thing to feel completely realistic and immersive. All the sets were built as composite. So, once the actors were on them, you were in Venice.

He was saddened that we couldn’t film it in Venice, but the practicalities were such that it just wasn’t ever gonna work. But when we built those big sets, and you close the doors or Poirot locks the case at the top of the stairs of the piano, normally, those actors are locked in a very big scary house. There’s rain beating on the windows and if they look out the windows, they can see Venice. So, it was obviously a lovely opportunity as a designer to get to do that.

That’s incredible. Can you talk about working and collaborating with Kenneth Branagh to bring A Haunting In Venice to life?

John Paul Kelly: Sure, yeah, we really kept a very open mind as to how the film could look. So, Ken didn’t come in with. “I like blue. Do it in blue.” It’s very much let’s [take a] second to see and go explore Venice. Imagine what this is. His notes were very particular and very and very astute thought as we went along. He liked the idea of it not feeling like a Grand Canal Venice, of it feeling like a backwater Venice. Of the House been full of surprises. He liked the idea of nothing being conventionally as you expect it in a horror film. So the séance doesn’t sit, they’re not sitting around a round table holding hands.

We came up with this idea of a cruciform table with the psychic in the middle with Miss Reynolds in the middle. Which allowed her to kind of eyeball each potential culprit around the table and so on. So it was kind of, he had lots of notes as to how he felt that the world should feel dramatically, I suppose, but then gave me immense and really great freedom in terms of how it should feel architecturally. So, the layout of the rooms, he was really excited and willing to adapt the script to fit into something that I felt was a realistic palazzo. Rather than a scripted palazzo.

As I’ve said before, I’m very interested in the historical accuracy of these buildings. I wanted to be able to stand in front of a Venetian historian, and not have them smirk and laugh at our work. I think it’s pretty true to the layout of a Palatzeu. There’s a few liberties we’ve taken, Frescoes, for example, aren’t very popular in Venice, because it’s so damp, that they all crumble.

But, we love the idea, everyone had painted walls and faces looking down on you. So there’s certain liberties you take, but you do them kind of knowingly. Kane was really up for that and very generous with listening to the ideas that I brought to the table. So yeah, it was a great collaboration I enjoyed.

About A Haunting In Venice

Kenneth Branagh looking surprised as Hercule Poirot in A Haunting in Venice.

Now retired and living in self-imposed exile in the world’s most glamorous city, Poirot reluctantly attends a 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.

Check out our other A Haunting In Venice interviews here:

  • James Pritchard
  • Composer Hildur Guðnadóttir
  • Cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos

Source: Screen Rant Plus

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