A Haunting in Venice

Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Distributed by: 20th Century Studios

Written by Taylor Baker


Branagh’s third turn as Hercule Poirot sees the Agatha Christie novel ‘Hallowe’en Party’ adapted for the big screen. The sprawling cast, deadpan camp, gawdily ornate structures and designs, and formulaic–though occasionally sharp–cinematography of Branagh’s first two Poirot films “Murder on the Orient Express” and “Death on the Nile” are exchanged for an intimate night trapped in a haunted Venician palazzo during a seance on Halloween Night. Branagh’s direction is crisper here than in recent forays–aside from “Belfast”–his editor Lucy Donaldson shows a strong touch from the start, with choices like a well timed cut from a body splashing into a canal after being pushed and a picture perfect layering of Venice into the mind of Branagh’s Poirot on a close-up. Her structuring of unnarrated brief cutaways suitably informs the viewer while keeping momentum going forward in a separate quadrant of the space, a significant step up from the labored efforts of “Death on the Nile” by Úna Ní Dhonghaíle.

“A Haunting in Venice” begins in 1947 with a post-war Poirot now retired and drowning himself in pastries and gardening whilst a line of would-be cases piles up in front of his door. After a time Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey) schemes her way in to see her old friend Poirot and after some charming if unconvincing banter between the two they set off for a Halloween Party for orphans at a haunted house. The catch is that Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly) an Opera singer whose daughter died recently is throwing a seance that Ariadne wants him to debunk. After the party for the orphans ends as a chandelier crashes to the floor, the film narrows its scope to the familiar Agatha Christie narrative device of locking all her characters in a space til we found out the truth, or rather Poirot does.

Though the scope of the film is tighter than previous entries it is still brimming with talent with Jamie Dornan, Camille Cottin, Michelle Yeoh, Riccardo Scarmarcio, Emma Laird, Ali Khan, Kyle Allen, and Jude Hill round out the previously mentioned Kenneth Branagh, Tina Fey, and Kelly Reilly. Dornan and Hill reteam with Branagh after their work in “Belfast” as a shell-shocked doctor father and a perhaps too clever for his own good son. Cottin plays Olga Seminoff a loyal house keeper to Reilly’s Rowena Drake, Yeoh plays a medium name Joyce Reynolds with two assistants Nicholas Holland (Ali Khan) and Desdemona Holland (Emma Laird). Riccardo Scarmarcio plays Vitale Portfoglio–Poirots bodyguard and assistant–while Kyle Allen’s Maxime Gerard plays the guilty ex-fiance of Rowena Drake’s daughter.

Branagh’s confidence in direction is strong as ever with a narrative half-predicated on thoughtful sound design that equally hinges on his performance, the use of depth in frame draws the eye to clues and behavior while setting the mood of our long night in a haunted house. “A Haunting in Venice” is the best Poirot flick Branagh has made, it’s confident, constantly moving forward, and fun.

“A Haunting in Venice” Trailer

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on film on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

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