Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Premise: An adaptation of the novel Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie. Investigator Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is drawn out of retirement to investigate a psychic (Michelle Yeoh). When a séance is interrupted by a murder, Poirot must solve the crime.
What Works: A Haunting in Venice is the third film in Kenneth Branagh’s series of Agatha Christie adaptations and this installment has a distinctly different tone. It is a darker movie but also a bit more fun, in keeping with the Halloween setting. The film has a marvelously gothic atmosphere and the lighting and camerawork are very impressive especially in the use of shadows. Partly owing to the style, A Haunting in Vencie has a sense of imminent danger and it is tense and urgent in a way its predecessors were not. The filmmakers do an excellent job playing out the ambiguity of the supernatural. The killer may be flesh and blood but there is plenty of other supernatural phenomena around the house that could be genuine or simply projection. The supernatural pairs with the murder mystery as Poirot and others question what they believe and whether that belief is based on reason and evidence or what they prefer to accept about the world. The film has a terrific cast with Kenneth Branagh reprising the role of Hercule Poirot. The cast also includes Michelle Yeoh as a psychic and Yeoh embodies the ambiguity that defines this story. Tina Fey plays a writer and mystery novelist. She is given some glib dialogue which she delivers in the style of Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday.
What Doesn’t: Murder mysteries need a worthy payoff in order to be fully satisfying but the climax of A Haunting in Venice is lacking. The reveal of the killer works insofar as it makes sense but the scene in which Poirot puts the pieces together and identifies the culprit is not very dramatic. There’s no shock and the reveal doesn’t dramatically change the way we understood the case or the characters. Part of the pleasure to be had in this kind of murder mystery is being outsmarted by the storyteller but that doesn’t happen here. A related pleasure of murder mysteries is the intricacy of the case. Ideally, the clues and logic fit together like a clock but Poirot makes big leaps in his reasoning. The loose argument weakens Poirot’s personal story in which he rediscovers his passion for solving crimes.
Bottom Line: A Haunting in Venice is the best (so far) of Kenneth Branagh’s Hercule Poirot films. Even though the ending lacks a dramatic payoff, the rest of the film has an energy and sense of fun and style that elevates this installment.
Episode: #971 (October 29, 2023)