A Haunting in Venice


We delve into the horror genre again this week, but with a whodunit spin on things. I expect more horror films leading up to Halloween, but I am really hoping for a 5-star movie us. Spoiler alert, its not this one. However, there is some things to enjoy here. We have ANOTHER Hercule Poirot story. If this name sounds familiar to you, he is/was a leading detective in novels by Agatha Christie. I learned that the character was in 33 novels and various plays and short stories. This character has been portrayed by many different actors over the years, but this rendition is by Kenneth Branagh (also the director) and is his third take on the detective. We also had Murder on the Orient Express (2017) and Death on the Nile (2022) both of which for me were 3 star and 2 ½ star films respectively. This film specifically is based on the novel Hallowe’en Party from 1969. So, would this entry be a cut above the rest? Pun intended.

Onto the film.

We open in Venice, Italy and learn that Poirot (Branagh) is “retired” and no longer solves cases. We see a group waiting outside his home begging for assistance. He ignores them. The score is ominous as we are taken throughout Venice and get to see some of the gothic architecture that sets the tone for the mystery to come. We then meet his long-time friends named Ariadne Oliver (Fey) and we learn she has written about him in the past and hopes to bring him along for a séance lead by a mysterious woman named Joyce Reynolds (Yeoh) The plan is for him to debunk her “psychic abilities” and it will help for her next novel. We will see.

Poirot (Branagh) reluctantly agrees and off the go. We then end up in what feels like a giant castle, and again the film cuts in and out of gothic imagery and paint the room. It works and allows the viewer to be on hedge throughout. I wondered if someone would die? I immediately questioned all of the parties’ motives and tried to pick out clues. We learn that the séance is for Rowena Drake (Reilly) to talk to her daughter who has died. Maybe this is the only death in this film?

I will say there’s roughly 20 minutes of the séance and learning about the guests at the party that really works. Michelle Yeoh as the physic Joyce Reynolds is a great addition to these films. Her character and actions make these better than other Branagh renditions of Poirot.

Here’s what worked:

The cast in reference to Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Yeoh, and a young boy named Jude Hill. Hill specifically plays wiser beyond his years and its believable and adds gravitas to this story. The others, forgettable. Tina Fey is great normally, but she was distracting, and I don’t think works for this type of role. Maybe I’ll grow into it with her if there are more? I’ve learned the character she plays is vital to the Poirot stories so we will see.

The locations and score also work. Maybe I’m ready for fall, but the “Halloween” spin on this story compared to a train and the Nile works better for a whodunit in my opinion. Both motifs go hand in hand in with the macabre vibes and MURDER!

What doesn’t work:

The pacing of the story. I am shocked to tell you that it was boring at parts. I understand building up the characters, but it dragged in Acts 2 and 3 aside from the séance. You have a slow opening, a GREAT segment “conjuring” ghosts. Some not mentioned excitement, then bore. Granted, the film picks things up slightly but unfortunately the in-between only makes this slightly better than the others. If you’re a fan of the novels, or murder mysteries you will have fun. This doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but its enjoyable. The best of Branagh’s three films with Poirot. 3 ½ stars out of 5

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