In A Haunting in Venice, celebrated detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) of the Agatha Christie novels is forced out of retirement and makes his first run into the supernatural. An apparent atheist, Poirot scoffs at spirit medium Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh) who claims to channel a spirit haunting a decaying palazzo, who killed herself over a heartbreak—or so it seems.
Every cast member brought their A-game to the film, particularly, the recent Oscar Best Actress winner Yeoh. With bloodshot eyes, she tearfully tells Poirot she is the real deal, nearly convincing this writing spectator with her defense. Comedienne Tina Fey proves she is an acting chameleon, almost unrecognizable as the apple-loving novelist Ariadne Oliver, a recurring supporting character in the books. Branagh masterfully wears two hats, as the film’s jaded protagonist and director.
The screenplay, adapted from the novel Hallowe’en Party, involves putting the viewers through all things to mess up knowing whether the killer is human or spectral. There is fun in expecting the know-it-all sleuth to be humbled by a superior, metaphysical being (or not). However, the pleasure of unraveling mysteries not yet encountered by Poirot was cut by cheap jumpscares obviously designed to elicit a reaction from the audience.
Two films later, it is disappointing to see Poirot not learning that enclosing all suspects in one space leads to more deaths. The train in Murder On The Orient Express and the ferry in Death on the Nile are acceptable “holding areas” because they were distant from the authorities, but the third film is located in an Italian city, with the police one phone call away. It does not help that Poirot keeps saying the cops will eventually consult with him anyway.
The amalgam of supernatural and detective genres, and a bit of slapstick comedy, is a brilliant way to take Poirot out of his comfort zone. However, I fear forthcoming films might veer away from the core of the novels that made Poirot popular. I hope he won’t be dealing with UFOs and aliens in the next movie if any is still in the works. Or perhaps, Poirot gets thrown forward in time to solve a mystery in 2023.
Despite these, Poirot’s dry humor is a constant factor that breaks the ice in what could have been a derivative Scooby Doo story. It was also interesting to immerse in shadow play and other things toys that brought fun to kids after World War II.
The relatively short runtime—one hour and 47 minutes—is also enough to keep the viewers engaged with the dialogue-heavy film. Fair warning that this is a murder mystery so your favorite star’s appearance might be short-lived.
A thrilling whodunnit tale to warm you up for Halloween next month, A Haunting in Venice is worth the price of admission.
A Haunting in Venice is showing in Philippine cinemas starting Wednesday, Sept. 13. Watch the trailer below.