Kenneth Branagh is an outstanding talent in the film industry. I can’t for the life of me understand why he is continuing with the Poirot mystery films. The first two were mediocre at best. Does he have better luck here? Detective Hercule Poirot is now retired, living in Venice and steering clear of mysteries. He is asked to attend a séance to verify its credibility. But when an attendee is murdered, Poirot is forced to come out of retirement and figure out who the killer is.
Although Branagh’s Poirot films have been underwhelming thus far, I’m happy to say this was an improvement over the previous two. It still isn’t great and loses steam in the middle section, but it is certainly worth a watch. The most impressive aspect of the film is the set design. Branagh possesses an eye for the theatrics and it shows here. The Venice setting is accompanied by lots of spooky artifacts and architecture. The lighting in the film highlights these pieces to elevate the tone. I felt more immersed in the mystery because the setting really transports the viewer.
The performances were also the best of the Poirot films so far. Branagh is likeable in the lead and Michelle Yeoh adds a nice touch as Mrs. Reynolds. But the most surprising performance came from young Jude Hill. He portrays a witty young man with an intelligent demeanor. I enjoyed how they incorporated his character into the story so much, letting him and Branagh go toe-to-toe. By the conclusion, the reveals about the supernatural aspects and why each character experienced certain events were a nice surprise.
While the film isn’t very scary, it has a lingering sense of dread. I enjoyed that Poirot’s newest mystery leaned into a creepier aesthetic. It gives this story a unique identity, proving even Poirot something new to unpack. This goes hand-in-hand with the setting as the spooky Venice canals mixed and old brick buildings make each character want to check behind each corner to make sure they’re safe. If nothing else, “A Haunting in Venice” is a fun watch to bask in the Halloween spirit.
I’ve previously criticized these films for being glitzy and glamorized while having little substance behind them. A “Haunting in Venice” is certainly an improvement, but not a large enough leap forward to truly change my mind on the series. Thank goodness for the horror elements in this one, otherwise the film would have felt stale. The format of the mystery isn’t entirely unique either. We’ve seen stories like this before, diluting some of the surprises. Not that the film doesn’t have a few, but in general I don’t think this mystery is doing anything game changing.
I also found the story to be confusing at times. There would be exchanges with characters that didn’t make sense leading into the conclusion. But the conclusion itself is something I had an issue with. While the reveal was surprising as a whole, there weren’t enough clues that made sense correlating to the resolution. I like it when stories are unpredictable and keep everyone guessing, but here I found that there was no way to put certain pieces of the puzzle together.
I’ll chalk “A Haunting in Venice” up as a win. It improves upon the previous two movies with a spooky ambiance and a mystery that has some surprises worth sticking around for. I don’t think it does enough to truly get this series on course, but I had a fun time with it. Check it out on streaming with a seasonal candle and a cocktail when the leaves are changing.