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Branagh returns as Poirot in horror-tinged mystery 'A Haunting in Venice'

Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot in 20th Century Studios' A HAUNTING IN VENICE. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.
Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot in 20th Century Studios' A HAUNTING IN VENICE. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.
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A Haunting in Venice
3.5 out of 5 Stars
Kenneth Branagh
Writers: Michael Green, Agatha Christie
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Yeoh, Jamie Dornan, Tina Fey
Genre: Mystery, horror
Rated: PG-13 for some strong violence, disturbing images and thematic elements

Studio Synopsis: Set in eerie, post-World War II Venice on All Hallows’ Eve, “A Haunting in Venice” is a terrifying mystery featuring the return of the celebrated sleuth, Hercule Poirot. 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.

Review: Based on Agatha Christie’s “Hallowe’en Party,” “A Haunting in Venice” sees Kenneth Branagh return as Hercule Poirot for the third time. Having not read Christie’s novel, I can’t exactly comment on how accurate the adaptation is. From what I can glean from the book’s synopsis, the plot and location of the stories is radically different. The themes and supernatural elements do, however, line up.

As you might expect, “A Haunting in Venice” is predominantly a standard Christie story that sees Poirot soaking in the minute details of a crime scene for the better part of the narrative only to reveal the identity of a murderer (or murderers) in a grand speech. Where the film differs is its use of horror tropes from 1960s and 1970s cinema. It is essentially a haunted house narrative with a protagonist, Poirot, who doesn’t believe in ghosts.

The film is shot in a way that purposefully keeps the audience off balance. The shots are filmed from slightly too high or too low of an angle. The use of shadow, light, and color (or lack of) helps to create a fantastic atmosphere. Venice, its canals, and a massive storm also help to establish a sense of isolation that you wouldn’t normally feel in a major metropolis.

The performances are solid. Branagh is fantastic, as is Michelle Yeoh as Mrs. Reynolds, a medium who attempts to connect with the dead child of Rowena Drake (played by the often-overlooked Kelly Reilly). Jamie Dornan is unrecognizable as Dr, Leslie Ferrier in the best of ways. Yes, Tina Fey’s Ariadne Oliver, a novelist who believes she is responsible for Poirot’s fame, is a bit grating. She’s intended to be.

There’s a lot to like in “A Haunting in Venice,” my only complaints would be that I was able to figure out the murderer before the investigation even began and that Leopold Ferrier (Jude Hill), an incredibly intelligent and observant young boy, isn’t given a moment to be a child. He’s more of an adult than those who are around him. He does at least demonstrate a lack of judgement. It’s not quite enough for me.

More good than bad. If you’re tempted to see “A Haunting in Venice,” go ahead and just give in.

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