A Haunting in Venice, 2023

Fast Review: A Haunting in Venice, 2023

Kenneth Branagh's Hercule Poirot is back for a third time, moody and isolated in a beautifully photographed Venice, set in a post-World War II time period with American G.I.'s promenading in the background.

Branagh's tempo while playing Poirot on screen these three times is steady and as a performer Branagh generates instant gravitas on demand for the camera, but Branagh's production of the three Poirot films keeps playing up ulterior dilemmas that must exist for such a smart fellow with such an unusual (and obsessive) need for order, grooming, and of course, getting tricky murders solved. Branagh wants us to know Poirot from the inside out, and for the most part pulls it off in a straightforward way.

In A Haunting in Venice, Poirot is up against not just dead bodies and the question of how did they get that way, but also a Halloweenesque series of supernatural occurrences in an old mansion of many floors with a subterranean level that dips below the level of the famous Venetian waterways. For a resisting Poirot (screenplay by Michael Green) the implication of any form of supernatural activity is that this means there are souls which live on despite the decay of the flesh; that there is a God; and that there are problems that continue well into eternity after being ignited in a mortal life. Book ended into these ruminations (that seem to border on fear) are Branagh's Poirot with his war wounds both physical and in the psyche. For Poirot, the burden of seeing the rest of humanity also wounded and hurt is the key motivation driving his "exile" to Venice where he is protected from people seeking help by a thorough and effective bodyguard (played by Riccardo Scamarcio).

A crime novelist (played by Tina Fey) is an old acquaintance and she strong-arms Poirot to attend a seance by a spiritualist (played by Michelle Yeoh). Poirot is able to quickly see through the scam of this phony supernatural event involving a self-typing typewriter and a hidden co-conspirator of the spiritualists hiding in a chimney, and the resumption of "order" seems accomplished, but then things start to get out of hand once dead bodies show up and more difficult to explain spiritual manifestations occur.

Twists and turns fill out the story, most of which takes place within the crumbling, decaying water-front mansion, with a precocious child-genius (played by Jude Hill) on hand carrying a volume of Edgar Allan Poe. The well-populated cast all trapped together inside the mansion is an Agathe Christie staple, though apparently a large number of liberties have been taken from the source novel Hallowe'en Party from 1969.

Unfortunately, A Haunting in Venice doesn't handle the physical space of the cast trapped together in the Venetian mansion particularly well (any random Hammer horror film or AIP Poe movie handles this basic problem better) and you don't get to really see the scope of the world Poirot is working within until the end of the movie when more gorgeous cinematography of Venice is shown as the credits roll and we're able to view the mansion clearly.

Branagh is perfectly effective as Poirot the character and the cast itself is fine, and the script and the production provides one of those increasingly rare cinemagraphic experiences: a reasonably adult story for a (reasonable) adult audience.

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Original Page December 27, 2023 | Updated January 6, 2024