Face with white makeup and a tear on the cheek

"A Haunting in Venice," adapted from Agatha Christie's "Hallowe'en Party," presents a Halloween murder mystery directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh, delivering his most captivating portrayal of the astute detective Hercule Poirot. It is enhanced by phenomenal set designs and a screenplay by Michael Green that adds layers to this chilling supernatural thriller. The previous installments, "Murder on the Orient Express" and "Death on the Nile," explored revenge and greed, respectively. This delves into the supernatural, prodding at Poirot's beliefs and creating a riveting internal conflict for the protagonist. 

The film's opening Dutch angle shot immediately sets an unsettling and disorienting tone for the murder mystery. A decade has passed since the last installment, "Death on the Nile" (set in 1937), and the world has endured the scars of a devastating war. This turmoil surrounds Poirot, haunted by the anguish of another generation decimated by conflict.

In the present time, amidst the foggy canals of post-WWII Venice, the famed detective Poirot (Branagh) now lives in self-imposed retirement. His portrayal delves deeper into the detective's background, revealing a man wearied by the world's darker shades, longing for escape yet forever entangled by it.

Tina Fey's mischievous mystery writer, Ariadne Oliver, tempts the detective with a séance, aiming to debunk its authenticity. Though reluctant, Poirot's curiosity leads him to the sinister quarters of opera diva Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly). But when death strikes, all attendees become suspects, launching Poirot back into a labyrinth of murky secrets. With its captivating allure, Venice hints that mysteries and shadows lurk everywhere.

Let's delve into the suspects:

  • The Writer: Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey), a previously successful mystery writer whose acclaim was tied to Poirot. Their intricate friendship is marred by mutual animosity, her recent works suffering without Poirot's muse.
  • The Mother: Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly), a former opera singer turned grieving mother, hosts the séance in her eerie Venetian mansion. Her late daughter Alicia's torrid affair with Maxime was something Rowena opposed.
  • The Doctor: Dr. Leslie Ferrier (Jamie Dornan), the Drakes' PTSD-afflicted family physician with wartime skeletons. His unwavering love for Rowena is palpable despite his own vulnerabilities.
  • The Housekeeper: Olga Seminoff (Camille Cottin), the religious housekeeper and ex-nun. She abandoned her vows for love yet remains deeply spiritual, often invoking divine justification.
  • The Medium: Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh), a self-assured psychic and wartime nurse, harbors shared traumas with Poirot. Her aides, the Holland siblings (Ali Khan and Emma Laird), are war survivors deeply indebted to Joyce.
  • The Former Fiancé: Maxime Gerard (Kyle Allen), Alicia's past lover, struggles with their relationship's implications. He asserts his genuine love for Alicia despite the potential monetary gains.

As Leopold Ferrier, Jude Hill deserves special mention for stealing the show. This unique youngster prefers the macabre tales of Edgar Allan Poe over childish games on Halloween. He claims fellowship with the deceased and keeps an eye out for his jittery father, Dr. Leslie Ferrier.

By confining the list of suspects to the palazzo, the viewers' connection to each character deepens, intensifying the claustrophobic atmosphere. The dim natural lighting further enhances the suspense and unease, turning the palazzo into a pivotal character itself.

The film's dry humor is evident in Poirot's apparent disdain for the police. Poirot replies when a suspect suggests involving the authorities, implying he'd be as dead as the victim if he needed their help.

Hildur Gudnadøttir, celebrated for scores in "Joker" and "TÁR," provides a composition that echoes the psyche of Poirot and the palazzo's spirit. The result is a moody classical ensemble evoking unease, tension, and a touch of claustrophobia.

My biggest complaint––the reveal itself. It was utterly ludicrous and stopped all the momentum leading up to this point. Certain clichés, like storm-induced isolation and down phone lines, somewhat impair the experience. One of the film's best performances was killed off way too early in the story. 

In "A Haunting in Venice," Kenneth Branagh delivers, without a doubt, the finest Poirot adventure/performance yet while making it visually appealing. It's spooky but not enough to generate any genuine jump scares. Venice intrigues with its mist, masks, and supernatural pizzazz, providing the ideal backdrop for an unforgettable who-dun-it Halloween tale.