Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Kyle Allen, Camille Cottin, Jamie Dornan, Tina Fey, Jude Hill, Ali Khan, Emma Laird, Kelly Reilly, Riccardo Scamarcio, Michelle Yeoh
Runtime: 1 hr 43 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence and Frightening Scenes)
Released By: Walt Disney
Opening Day: 7 September 2023
Synopsis: Set in eerie, post-World War II Venice on All Hallows’ Eve, “A Haunting in Venice” is a terrifying mystery featuring the return of the celebrated sleuth, Hercule Poirot. Now retired and living in self-imposed exile in the world’s most glamorous city, Poirot reluctantly attends a séance at a decaying, haunted palazzo. When one of the guests is murdered, the detective is thrust into a sinister world of shadows and secrets.
This writer is not much of a reader, so movies adapted from novels are a great way for him to have an understanding of the magic that can happen within the pages of a thick book. This time round, he is treated to the very entertaining adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1969 work Hallowe’en Party, and even gets a chance to see the majestic Venice on the big screen.
If you ask this reviewer, Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is a lucky man. The fictional character created by Christie gets to travel to some of the most breathtaking places in the world. The thing is, while most of us would love to be there on a holiday, he ends up having to solve mysteries, usually to find out the killer behind a grisly murder.
After chugging along with the train in Murder on the Orient Express (2017) and witnessing beautiful pyramids in Death on the Nile (2022), Poirot heads to the picturesque Venice, which is also known as the The Floating City. This means that the movie promises eye candy in the form of winding canals, striking architecture and beautiful bridges.
The man wants to retire in the Italian city as he has lost belief in faith and humanity, and you won’t expect him to take any more cases. But what’s a mystery movie without a crime to solve? Poirot finds himself at a Halloween party at a grand palace, where a séance takes place after the fun and games. A medium is going to make contact with the palace owner’s dead daughter, who didn’t exactly have the best life – she broke off her engagement with a man she loved, fell terribly ill and eventually committed suicide.
Alas, the medium dies horribly soon after and everyone in the palace is a suspect. Poirot has no choice but to put his sleuthing skills to the test to solve the mystery. With sightings of spirits, is there really a supernatural force to be reckoned with? Without giving away too much, let’s just say no one is safe because by the end of the 103 minute movie, there will be more deaths.
Kenneth Branagh directs himself the third time to portray the world weary Poirot. Together with him is a competent ensemble cast that makes this effective mystery murder movie engaging to watch. The star studded lineup includes Tina Fey as a nosey mystery writer, Jamie Dornan as a doctor truamatised by his time in a war concentration camp), Michelle Yeoh as the medium who otherwise may just be a con artist, and Kyle Allen as the dead girl’s fiancée who is mysteriously invited to the Halloween party.
There is also Kelly Reilly as the palace owner, Camille Cottin as her housemaid, Jude Hill as the doctor’s son, Riccardo Scamarcio as Poirot’s bodyguard, as well as Ali Khan and Emma Laird as the medium’s assistants. With so many characters, it is like playing a game of Cluedo where you are guessing who’s the murderer alongside Poirot.
In a good way, the movie doesn’t try to be too clever and all viewers need to do is to follow the comfortable pacing to be led to the answer. Everyone’s on form here, and you just need to go along for the ride. There are even some nifty scares along the way to coincide with the Halloween season, making this a fun whodunit to sit through.
(An enjoyable and effective whodunit that works, thanks to Kenneth Branagh's sure-handed direction)
Review by John Li