3 out of 5 stars
A Halloween mystery with a bit of a thrill, the release of “A Haunting in Venice” was timed perfectly for the season. Kenneth Branagh’s third portrayal as Detective Poirot and third time directing an Agatha Christie story lives up to the standards set by 2022’s “Death on the Nile.”
The film begins with mustached investigator Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branaugh) and his new life in Venice, retired from his detective work. Despite his relocation, he is still doggedly pursued by those desperate to receive his sleuthing assistance, including an old friend and mystery writer, Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey).
Oliver presents Poirot with an opportunity to challenge his beliefs, claiming even she cannot fathom how a local mystic has been able to perform her seances — other than having otherworldly powers. During their evening in a famously haunted residence, Poirot questions his own superstitions, or lack thereof, and comes out of retirement to solve a perplexing case from beyond the grave.
During the past year, there has been increasing media interest in Christie’s writing as well as mystery plots in general, and Branagh has been at the forefront of mystery productions. His 2017 “Murder on the Orient Express” featured a star-studded cast and introduced audiences to Branagh as Poirot.
Christie’s original story was the eighth of her Poirot novels, “Death on the Nile” being her 16th, and “A Haunting in Venice” (based on the 1969 “Hallowe’en Party”) her 33rd in her Poirot novel series.
Branagh’s collection seems to have made a large canonical jump in the last year; the last time audiences saw Poirot, he was without his iconic mustache and seemingly looking for love. This jump in time and the remaining loose ends leaves something to be desired and makes the collection of Christie’s stories less cohesive as a group, but there is still admirable consistency in Branagh’s acting and the style of all three films.
Branagh’s performance as Poirot is thoughtful and sure to delight any mystery fan, while Fey’s performance alongside him only serves as what might be considered comic relief. Both “Death on the Nile” and “A Haunting in Venice” do not understand where comedy fits into the tone of the film, despite writing it into the script anyway. Fey’s acting further interrupts the flow and makes the tone feel all the more uncertain.
The plot moves quickly, mostly taking place in one house throughout the same night. The dim lighting and richly decorated scenes are a delight to take in from shot to shot, and viewers fond of Venice may find themselves enchanted with the film’s scenery. The ambience in the film crafts an eerily antiquated look that extends into the costuming and props.
While the film is not necessarily “horror prone,” there is a small jump scare and plenty of opportunities to get goosebumps.
The first week of October could not be a more perfect time for the debut of “A Haunting in Venice.” The film fits perfectly into the movie-watching calendar for the month, starting off with mysterious and creepy prospects but doesn’t blow the whole budget on scares and horror.
Photo from mb.com.ph.