By Megan Bianco
Based on Agatha Christie’s 1969 novel Hallowe’en Party, A Haunting in Venice is Kenneth Branagh’s latest installment in his film adaptations featuring Christie’s classic detective character Hercule Poirot.
But this isn’t your average murder mystery set in the general WWII era with the French sleuth. It’s also a haunted house setting with magic and ghosts.
If you’ve seen the trailer, you might be thinking, “Uh, when did this series suddenly get scary?” Unlike Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile, I didn’t even know Hallowe’en Party existed until this new movie was out. Surely, it’s not as fantasy-heavy as the marketing leads on.
Replacing Devon, England with Venice, Italy for this interpretation, Poirot (Branagh) has retired since solving his previous murder case on the African river. His old friend, Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey), convinces him to tag along with her to a Halloween party on a rather stormy October evening.
What he expects to be a night of games and tricks, including supposed medium Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh), quickly turns so dark and dangerous that the gumshoe vet needs to slip back into his old position for the night to end smoothly.
A Haunting in Venice features yet another stacked cast of recognizable faces, here with Branagh, Fey, Yeoh, Kelly Reilly, Jamie Dornan, Kyle Allen, Emma Laird, Camille Cottin and Riccardo Scamarcio.
Though these mystery flicks are usually star-studded, of the recent Poirot pictures, I think the actors in Venice are best utilized among them. Fey, Yeoh and Reilly, in particular, are the standouts.
Branagh’s direction for these movies has ranged from decent to mediocre. While it’s not perfect here, either (e.g., some strange editing decisions and too many teary-eyed close-ups of the ladies), it might be his most interesting effort yet.
Most fortunately, the combination of horror and mystery successfully lands by the end. The first half is basically a horror period piece, while the second half is the typical Poirot breakdown.
It’s an unexpected mix, but a welcome one in a genre where we get countless slashers and exorcism-themed flicks.
If you like Christie whodunits and Halloween-appropriate movies, A Haunting in Venice could possibly be for you this season.