PLOT: While on an early retirement, famed private detective Hercule Poirot finds himself lured back into the world of mysteries. Specifically one fueled by the occult and invisible haunts that go bump in the night.
REVIEW: Kenneth Branagh’s cinematic career began with the Bard. The director’s debut was his bold take on William Shakespeare’s Henry V. The film garnered massive buzz, leading to an Academy Award nomination for his performance and directorial efforts. The praise was so impressive that Branagh was awarded the BAFTA for Best Director. He followed up his early career with a feature film version of Much Ado About Nothing a few years later. And now, with the recent Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile, and the upcoming A Haunting in Venice, the man who reawakened Shakespeare is bringing us the gifts of an Agatha Christie cinematic universe. Let’s see if this flick knows how to haunt.
It is post-World War II in Venice. Famed private detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) is enjoying an early retirement. However, something has pulled him back in. His dear friend Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey) convinces him to entertain in a mysterious seance conducted by the enigmatic Mrs. Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh), and a small series of murders occur. The suspects – and victims – include a mother who lost her daughter (Kelly Reilly), a troubled doctor (Jamie Dornan) and his son (Jude Hill), and, of course, Mrs. Reynolds, Ms. Oliver, and Mr. Poirot himself. Will the legendary detective finally believe in ghosts after all? Or is someone playing a few spooky tricks to frighten those in attendance?
From the first shot, A Haunting in Venice sets up the mysterious element of this ghostly tale. Once again, Branagh takes a literary classic story and breathes energy and fun into the experience. Having appreciated the charms of Murder on the Orient Express, but less so with the recent Death on the Nile, I found this to be a step up. Venice manages to bring a sense of the paranormal into the equation with a few haunted house tropes that are surprisingly effective at times. That’s not to say this is a full-on horror show, far from it, but it successfully offers a few moments that may give some viewers a slight jolt. While the ghostly elements are kept simple, they work well enough to create something sinister in the story.
Regarding performances, I’ve always admired Branagh and his ability to do so much. It is challenging for a performer to direct himself, especially in a leading role. Thankfully, the actor side of Kenneth is superb. His Poirot remains an engaging take on this famous crime stopper. Unsurprisingly, the terrific Kelly Reilly and Jamie Dornan add so much depth to their roles. Ultimately, the two are especially sympathetic – to a point – and it only adds to the final reveal. The excellent Michelle Yeoh is also enjoying well-deserved success as of late. The actress isn’t required to do much here, but she makes it all work wonders. While it seems light on the star power as opposed to the past couple of films, A Haunting in Venice may be the most satisfying of Branagh’s current love letters to Agatha Christie.
As well-directed and well-cast as it may be, the mystery isn’t all that mysterious. Some viewers just looking for a fun puzzle of a movie will be engaged by the charms of Fey and Branagh. And even if you are desperate to delve into a twisted mystery, you perhaps won’t get something too intricate with an Agatha Christie adaptation. Ultimately, Branagh has continued to bring the author into the modern era in a fun and delightful way. And frankly, I love taking classic works and giving them new life. Branagh’s talent for bringing older stories to modern audiences has always impressed me. And while his journey into Poirot may not be as awe-inspiring as his Henry V, it’s nice to see the classics explored in such an entertaining way.
A Haunting in Venice may not break new ground regarding classic mysteries on the big screen. Yet it certainly offers a fun and impressively shot feature with a near-perfect performance from Branagh. Jamie Dornan, Kelly Reilly, and Michelle Yeoh also add to the spooky tale centered around a haunted house. You’ll happily attend if you’ve found some entertainment in Branagh’s Christie-verse. Who knew classic mysteries could be so cool? Even if you aren’t a believer, this current flick offers a tasty sprinkle of the paranormal. If you are looking for an early Halloween treat, maybe this little ghost story will do the trick.