'A Haunting in Venice' review: Poirot goes supernatural in latest Agatha Christie adaptation
Courtesy of 20th Century Studios
Death, taxes, and apparently Kenneth Branagh directed Agatha Christie adaptations are guaranteed in life. After “Death on the Nile” was stuck on the shelf for years because of the pandemic and mustered a disappointing box office and critical return, it’s fascinating a third entry in this franchise managed to get off the ground. Enter “A Haunting in Venice,” which sees Branagh step in front of and behind the camera for the third time playing Christie sleuth Hercule Poirot. A different beast compared to its predecessors, this adaptation borrows inspiration from one of Christie’s lesser known works “Hallow’en Party” and although Branagh and screenwriter Michael Green have changed the settings and tweaked the final outcome, “A Haunting in Venice” is a perfectly serviceable thriller even if it doesn’t quite stick the landing.
But to Branagh’s credit, “Venice” is the best looking Poirot adventure of the lot. After the horrendous visuals of “Death on the Nile” became a meme, it was refreshing to see real locations with real costumes and solid production design. One thing missing, however, was an energetic personality screaming: “We have enough champagne to fill the nile!”
What we do have in “A Haunting In Venice” is a respectable ensemble of characters caught in the middle of a supernatural murder mystery. They include celebrated author and friend of Poirot Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey), who has shown up in a few Christie novels; Ms. Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh), a medium who claims to communicate with the dead; grieving mother Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly), whose daughter died by suicide, her au pair, Olga Seminoff (Camille Cottin). Then there’s Dr. Leslie Ferrier and son Leopold (Jamie Dornan and Jude Hill both reuniting with Branagh after “Belfast”) and other various suspects who show up either as red herrings or fresh meat.
Changing up the English locale from the original novel in favor of the gorgeous views of Venice is a wise choice as it allows the filmmaker to bolster a moody ambiance which complement the various jump scares, creaky corridors, and spooky hallways. This puts Poirot, who had been trying to enjoy retirement, outside of his comfort zone as strange hallucinations plague the subconscious when a séance goes horribly wrong and a body is impaled on a statue.
“A Haunting in Venice” features lesser movie stars when you look at the roster of “Murder on the Orient Express,” and the character work can be choppy and border on reader's theater. Branagh continues to be the glue who holds the action together as he juggles between intuitiveness and arrogance, but not make the performance too campy or risk losing the authenticity. As for the newcomers, Yeoh does the most and reminds us why she took home the best actress trophy and young Hill is solid, but there’s a spark missing from all the rest. Tina Fey, in particular, seems completely out of place. Kyle Allen? Even more so.
I also wished the climax, different from Christie’s, had packed a bigger punch. It’s missing that satisfying “aha!” moment and the individual clues which pertain to the big reveal don’t always hold water. Still, there’s just enough in “A Haunting in Venice,” from the sheik costumes and quick editing, to keep you on the hook (that its director has helmed everything from classic Shakspeare to an adaptation of “Frankenstein” doesn’t hurt). If anything, it proves there’s some gas in the tank for future Poirot adventures. Let’s just hope they’re worth solving.
A HAUNTING IN VENICE is now playing in theaters.