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A Haunting in Venice

MOVIE | Kenneth Branagh’s new film is better than the Agatha Christie novel it’s based on

Tina Fey, Michelle Yeoh, and Kenneth Branagh star in A Haunting in Venice 20th Century Studios/Photo by Rob Youngson

<em>A Haunting in Venice</em>
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The world’s most famous mustachioed detective returns to theaters with Kenneth Branagh directing and starring in his third Hercule Poirot movie. A Haunting in Venice (rated PG-13) ostensibly adapts Agatha Christie’s Hallowe’en Party, but the book and the movie don’t have much in common. The storylines diverge drastically, and while the book is set in Christie’s familiar English countryside, the movie moves the action to an eerie palazzo in Venice, Italy.

The film begins with a reclusive Poirot living in retirement in Venice where he’s given up solving cases despite throngs of people begging for his help. His comfortable routines are interrupted by the arrival of an old friend, the novelist Ariadne Oliver, played by a subdued, yet witty, Tina Fey.

Mrs. Oliver hopes to lure Poirot out of his self-imposed exile with a perplexing case. Michelle Yeoh plays Joyce Reynolds, a popular and very convincing spiritualist. Mrs. Oliver hopes Poirot can unmask her as a fraud. He agrees to attend one of Reynolds’ seances scheduled for Halloween night.

Reynolds is expected to make contact with the ghost of Alicia Drake, a young woman who died under mysterious circumstances. Besides Poirot and Mrs. Oliver, Alicia’s mother, nurse, doctor, and finance are in attendance. By the end of the night, Alicia’s demise won’t be the house’s only mysterious death. Poirot can’t let someone get away with committing murder right below his mustache, and Mrs. Oliver is delighted to see that a corpse has awakened Poirot from his stupor.

Each of Branagh’s Poirot films bring a different element to Agatha Christie’s relatively cozy mysteries. Murder on the Orient Express added a dash of action. Death on the Nile had a splash of sensuality. A Haunting in Venice brings a dark and suspenseful brooding commonly found in horror films. The movie doesn’t contain bad language or sex, but jump scares and disturbing scenes earn it a PG-13 rating.

A Haunting in Venice is a tight psychological thriller with a fantastic ensemble cast.

Not only do the films have different atmospherics, Branagh explores different themes in each. Murder on the Orient Express deals with revenge, Death on the Nile greed, and A Haunting in Venice is about whether there’s something beyond us. In Christie’s novels, Poirot is partly motivated by a sense of divine justice, but Branagh’s Poirot has confronted the problem of evil and lost his faith.

The previous movies set up this world-weary version of Poirot. He has a brilliant mind, but he’s tortured by loss. He says he doesn’t believe in God, but he wishes he could because without God life has no meaning. It’s his disbelief that’s driven him into his reclusive retirement. If in the end life has no purpose, what’s the point of searching for truth and justice?

A Haunting in Venice is a tight psychological thriller with a fantastic ensemble cast. The rundown, melancholy palazzo where much of the action takes place becomes a character in its own right, and a metaphor for this once beautiful, yet broken, world we all inhabit. The stunning color-saturated cinematography exhibits Branagh’s signature attention to detail. All these things, along with a strong story, make this the best of his Poirot movies to date.

But how does A Haunting in Venice compare to Hallowe’en Party, the novel it’s supposedly based on. The movie is actually much better than the book. Hallowe’en Party is one of Christie’s weakest novels, featuring an obvious solution, an overly complex crime, and a ridiculous denouement. Branagh streamlined the plot and made the killer’s identity trickier to spot. Maybe too tricky, because the clues Poirot explains at the reveal will prove pretty tough for viewers to spot.

I wasn’t impressed with Branagh’s second outing, Death on the Nile, and after that movie, I hoped he might be done with his psychologically tormented version of Poirot. But now that I’ve seen A Haunting in Venice, I’m ready for the next mystery. It would be such a waste if Branagh’s Poirot went back into retirement.

Collin Garbarino

Collin is WORLD’s arts and culture editor. He is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Louisiana State University and resides with his wife and four children in Sugar Land, Texas.



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