• Wed. Apr 17th, 2024

A HAUNTING IN VENICE – Hercule Poirot is On the Case Again!

ByTaylor T Carlson

Sep 10, 2023

A HAUNTING IN VENICE is directed by Kenneth Branagh. The film stars Branagh, Kyle Allen, Camille Cottin, Jamie Dornan, Tina Fey, Jude Hill, Ali Khan, Emma Laird, Kelly Reilly, Riccardo Scamarcio, and Michelle Yeoh. It’s the third Agatha Christie adaptation in which Branagh portrays Hercule Poirot, based on Christie’s book HALLOWE’EN PARTY.

Hercule Poirot has retired and settled down in Venice, following the events of World War II. Attending a seance, he hopes to prove the operation to be fraudulent with his detective skills; his first test of them in years. But just when it seems Poirot has exposed frauds, one of the party guests ends up dead. What is the mystery of this killing, and who is responsible for the events leading up to it?

Kenneth Branagh, while once best known for his adaptations of Shakespeare’s works, seems to have found a new source of inspiration in the form of Agatha Christie’s novels. With literally decades worth of Hercule Poirot mysteries to choose from, he’ll have no shortage of source material for as long as he chooses to play the mustachioed detective. A HAUNTING IN VENICE follows MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS from 2017 and DEATH ON THE NILE from early 2022 (which was meant to come out earlier but was delayed due to the pandemic). A HAUNTING IN VENICE is the third installment in Branagh’s Poirot series, but this latest installment sadly doesn’t live up to the previous two outings. Branagh’s as solid as ever, but the fusion of genres, cluttered locales, and rushed approach don’t do the film or the series at large any favors. Still, if Branagh dawns Poirot’s mustache a fourth time, I’ll certainly be in.

Seeing Branagh jump from Shakespeare to Christie has been quite the interesting transition, and it’s made for some interesting cinema! He’s a wizard on both sides of the camera, bringing Poirot to life for modern audiences. With his distinct accent and comically huge mustache, he chews up the scenery every time he’s on screen. He’s equally effective as a director, even if other persons in the films don’t quite get the development or fleshing out they deserve which Poirot received in spades. His movies unite ensemble casts, and they ensure each movie is star-studded and standalone that one doesn’t need to have seen the prior installments, yet still feel like part of a cohesive whole.

World building is another aspect in which these movies farewell. The first featured a train trip on the Orient Express. The second was a murder mystery in a boat on the Nile. Here, we move to Venice (the original source novel was published later and set in England, so the material is transposed to a different time and place). While this movie feels more cluttered and small-scale than its predecessors (almost certainly deliberate to boost the tension), Venice comes to life in both its daytime splendor and a haunting sense that comes with the dark nights. The locales in Branagh’s Poirot mysteries are half the fun, and they always seem to come to life. We also meet interesting people in each film, some of which the Belgian detective is meeting for the first time, and some of whom are old friends and acquaintances. A HAUNTING IN VENICE is no exception with its roster of characters.

As much as I love Poirot is portrayed and interpreted by Branagh, this film feels frustrating compared to the previous two. Much of this stems from adapting a novel from later in Christie’s life that didn’t get the best reviews at the time. It makes one ponder a mystery even greater than those investigated by Poirot: With decades of Christie mysteries starring the character to choose from, why choose the much-maligned HALLOWE’EN PARTY?

As the title implies, this one tries to incorporate some “scary” elements. It unfortunately does so in tasteless and uninteresting ways. And yes, that includes jump scares. I applaud Branagh and crew for creating a fearful atmosphere, but it feels out of place here. The cluttered palazzo is an interesting environment and a nice contrast to previous films, but something just feels “off” from start to finish. There aren’t enough scenes of Poirot being Poirot. And when he finally does get a chance to put his detective skills to the test to solve the mystery, the ending feels rushed and hurried, and the conclusion unsatisfying. Yes, we get the impression Poirot will return played/directed by Branagh in future films, but one has to wonder if this one will connect with mainstream audiences. Younger viewers wanting a horror film will feel underwhelmed, and older viewers seeking something more intellectual will be left disappointed with how little Poirot gets to take center stage. And despite it all, the ensemble cast largely feels one-dimensional. Even Michelle Yeoh, despite being prominently featured in publicity material, is barely in the movie. It’s sad when the best line of dialogue in a murder mystery (which itself feels hilariously out of place) comes from a talking bird and not Poirot.

I wanted to love A HAUNTING IN VENICE, but it’s the weakest of Branagh’s Poirot adaptations to date with its inconsistent tone, wasted ensemble cast, and rushed running time and cluttered ending. Will I go to see future Branagh Poirot films? Most definitely. They can only go up from here.

By Taylor T Carlson

Taylor T Carlson Assistant Editor/Senior Staff Writer Taylor T. Carlson was born August 17, 1984, and has called the Vegas Valley home his entire life. A die-hard fan of classic rock and metal music, Taylor has been writing album and concert reviews since he was 16 years old, and continues to do so, having done well over 1,000 reviews. He is also a fan of video gaming and cinema, and has reviewed a number of games and films as well, old and new alike. His thorough and honest (some would say brutally honest) reviewing style has won him the respect of hundreds of music fans and musicians alike, both local and abroad, and the ire of just as many others. Despite being one of the youngest attendees at classic hard rock/metal shows around Vegas, he is also one of the most knowledgeable, having gained the unofficial nickname of “The Eddie Trunk of Las Vegas.” In addition to reviews, Taylor has written and self-published three books on classic hard rock bands, and is a regular participant in rock and roll trivia contests. Taylor also holds a masters degree in special education from the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV), and has appeared on the hit History Channel television series Pawn Stars. His dream is to be able to one day make a living from writing music books and reviews.

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