A Haunting In Venice (2023)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 9/17/23
Director: Kenneth Branaugh
Cast: Kenneth Branaugh, Tina Fey, Kelly Reilly, Jamie Dornan, Michelle Yeoh

"Scary stories make life less scary."

A world-weary Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branaugh) is living as a retired recluse in Venice when American author Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey) invites him to a Halloween party in the hope of debunking a spirit medium (Michelle Yeoh). After claiming to channel Rowena Drake's (Kelly Reilly) deceased daughter during a seance, the medium ends up dead and Poirot has another murder case on his hands.

The claim that the story is based on Agatha Christie's "Hallowe'en Party" is a stretch, as the only thing it has in common with the source material is the names of the characters. Being that it's a detective story AND a ghost story, it's immediately obvious where Poirot's supernatural visions are coming from, but that still leaves some nagging unanswered questions. Regardless, it's a fun mystery, if not a tad long, and Poirot's cross examinations are always entertaining. Every character has a tragic and broken past, but unlike Branaugh's previous Poirot films, none of the characters have an obvious motive, which ties in nicely with the underlying supernatural theme. If it's all a clever ruse, then who is pulling the strings and why? This is what excites Poirot's little grey cells and reluctantly drags him out of retirement.

It's a good-looking film, but considerably less grandiose than Branaugh's previous Poirot outings. "Death On The Nile" (2022) felt bloated and awkward, while "A Haunting In Venice" is scaled back and much leaner. It's a darkly lit and spooky film that relies on jump scares and confusion to keep the audience alert and on its toes, but it also suffers from some questionable choices that tend to disrupt the flow of the story. The performances are wonderful and all of the characters do a great job of misdirecting the viewer. Tina Fey's brash novelist (modeled after Christie herself?) is an excellent foil for Poirot's reserved demeanor, and she delivers more great lines than I could commit to memory. Overall, it's a fun and enjoyable mystery that keeps the door open for more adventures, if Branaugh chooses to do so.