Hercule Poirot Sees A Ghost

‘A Haunting In Venice,’ Kenneth Branagh’s moody, introspective adaptation of a hacky Agatha Christie Halloween whodunnit

‘A Haunting In Venice’ is the third Kenneth Branagh adaptation of an Agatha Christie work in the last three years, and it’s by far the best. After a mediocre, somewhat straightforward ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ and a ‘Death on the Nile‘ marred by, among other things, a legendarily awful performance from Gal Gadot, that might not be saying much. But ‘Venice’ is also a surprisingly melancholy, moody meditation on mortality, full of Halloween jump scares and fun haunted-house cinematography. The “mystery” is beside the point. Christie’s stories are hacky nonsense. But Branagh brings a lot of style.

A HAUNTING IN VENICE ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Written by: Michael Green
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Tina Fey, Michelle Yeoh, Kelly Reilly
Running time: 103 mins

Branagh is also the main character, Hercule Poirot, the world’s greatest detective, retired from sleuthing and hiding out in Venice in 1947. ‘A Haunting In Venice’ is full of post-war trauma. As we learned in Death on the Nile, Poirot is a WWI veteran, and WWII has certainly taken its toll on him as well. Other war-damaged people, including a literal boatload of orphaned children, move in and out of frame. The city and continent are in full decay.

A plot arrives in the form of Tina Fey, playing a sassy American mystery novelist and former friend of Poirot’s named Ariadne Oliver. Fey gets a lot of screen time in A Haunting In Venice. As an actor, she’s an excellent writer, but she’s not so flat that she ruins the picture. She drags Poirot out to a Halloween party for orphaned children at a decaying palazzo, totally normal. After the party breaks up, Michelle Yeoh come in wearing a sad carnival mask so she can lead a séance. So we’re about 20 minutes in before the story, and the “haunting,” really start.

Yeoh really chews the curtains in her scenes. Yellowstone’s Kelly Reilly, as a grieving mother and opera singer–these are the kinds of people who live in Christie’s world–also goes ham on her part. She steals her scenes, like Emma Mackey did in Death on the Nile. There’s also a kid actor who looks a lot like the lead n ‘A Christmas Story’. He gets a lot of screen time and isn’t completely annoying. Once the séance and séance fallout begin, Poirot starts using his little gray cells and also suffers from some disturbing visions that have him questioning both reality and his retirement.

The story resolves itself with a lot of noise, some blood, and in a relatively brief runtime. There are interrogations, fist fights, mysterious visitations that may or may not be from beyond, and a nonsensical, cartoonish resolution. But the real center, as was the case is the other Branagh Agatha Christie adaptations, is Poirot’s personal struggle, in this case his search for meaning in late midlife. Though most of the movie takes place inside a home that might as well be the mansion from ‘Clue’, there are faint shades of Fellini-like introspection lurking at the edges of the war-damaged masked ball in ‘Haunting.’  Branagh’s performance and direction provide a level of introspective depth that the standard whodunnit rarely includes or requires, and elevates A Haunting In Venice slightly above the standard detective (and ghost) story.



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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 12 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer for both film and television, Neal has written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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