Kenneth Branagh didn’t give us much time to miss Hercule Poirot.
“Death on the Nile,” an adaptation of a crime novel by Agatha Christie and the sequel to actor and director Branagh’s 2017 “Murder on the Orient Express,” was released in early 2022.
Now, about a year and a half later, Branagh is back in cinemas as the mustachioed Belgian detective Poirot in The Haunting of Venice. (To be fair to Branagh, Death’s release was delayed more than once due to the pandemic, so in some ways Branagh had more time to miss incarnating the character than he did at first look shines.)
Thankfully, the consistently captivating “Haunting” feels fresh in some ways That wasn’t the case with the nonetheless entertaining “Death”. Thanks to the addition of a spooky atmosphere to the series, which comes from the constant fear that a supernatural presence could be responsible for this series of murders.
“Haunting,” a loose adaptation of Christie’s 1969 novel “Halloween Party” by “Murder” and “Death” author Michael Green, is set in Venice, of course, in 1947 — a decade after the events of the previous film.
Poirot, exhausted from a life of wars and constant criminal investigations, has retired to the Italian city and even hired a bodyguard – retired police officer Vitale Portfoglio (Richard Scamarcio, “John Wick: Chapter 2”). – to keep those who seek his help away from him. (In a very funny moment, Vitale casually knocks an approaching guy off a sidewalk over one of the city’s eponymous canals and into the water, allowing Poriot to calmly continue on his way.)
However, the former detective allows a long-time acquaintance to see him. And it’s no surprise that crime writer Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey), who long ago contributed to her reputation as a detective, needs his help in a case for which there seems to be no plausible explanation.
“You’re not the first person to try to seduce me with an irresistible case,” he says, turning her away.
But Ariadne persists, saying that she – the smartest person she knows – can’t figure it out, so she’s come to the second smartest.
He, of course, gives in and soon finds himself with Ariadne at a séance in the decaying palazzo of famous opera singer Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly) on Halloween. Rowena’s beloved daughter Alicia died under mysterious circumstances a year ago, and the large house now appears to be haunted.
Tonight at the Residence, together with Poirot, Ariadne, Rowena and Vitale:
— Maxime Gerard (Kyle Allen, “West Side Story”), a New York chef with whom Alicia had a failed engagement
— Olga Seminoff (Camille Cottin, “Call My Agent”), Rowena’s housekeeper who was close to Alicia
—Dr. Leslie Ferrier (Jamie Dornan of Branagh’s acclaimed “Belfast”), the Drake family doctor who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving as a military doctor for England during World War II
— Leopold Ferrier (Jude Hill, also from “Belfast”), Dr. Ferrier’s son, who acts much older than his 10 years
– Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh), a famous psychic who will preside over the otherworldly ceremony
– and Nicholas (Ali Khan, “6 Underground”) and Desdemona Holland (Emma Laird, “The Crowded Room”), a brother-sister duo who serve as Joyce’s assistants.
Poirot immediately clashes with Joyce, dismissing her as a mere opportunist and refusing to believe that anyone can communicate with the dead.
But when one person soon dies – and another corpse later becomes implicated in the affair – this man of logic and reason will be forced to question his certainties.
The detective’s loss of faith, both in humanity and in something more powerful, is an enduring theme in “A Haunting in Venice,” making the story relatable even as we believe remarkable events are occurring.
Branagh is still fun to watch as Poirot, even if at no point does he have any fun solving this growing mystery.
If The Haunting falls short in any respect compared to its predecessors, it’s the supporting cast, which is a little disappointing despite some notable names.
Fey (“30 Rock”) brings her distinctive comic edge to Ariadne, but it’s also hard to believe that Poirot would have anything to do with this author, who is in need of a hit novel after some recent failures.
And Reilly, who doesn’t exactly give the world’s best acting performance as the cheeky Beth Dutton in the hit series “Yellowstone”, is completely forgotten here.
Given his talent, it’s surprising that Dornan – who recently starred in the Netflix action spy film “Heart of Stone” – isn’t more influential here.
Taking over the gap is Hill, who is actually 12 years old. He’s a lot of fun as Leopold, who essentially takes over his father’s upbringing and prefers Edgar Allan Poe to the goofier Charles Dickens.
The standout, however, is Yeoh, an Oscar winner for last year’s “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Her scenes with Branagh, where Joyce and Poirot clash, simply crackle.
The screenplay by Green – who shortened the length of Christie’s story from several days to one night and changed the setting to an English country house, drawing inspiration from some of Christie’s short stories, including “The Last Seance”, will keep you guessing , but only up to a certain point. Some of the parts are easier to install than others.
It doesn’t matter how Branagh – with help from other collaborators including cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos (“Belfast”), production designer John Paul Kelly (“Blackbird”), editor Lucy Donaldson (“Breaking News in Yuba County”) and composer Hildur Gudnadóttir ( “Tar”) – provides liveliness and, yes, even a little spooky feeling.
He should feel free to bring Hercule Poirot back as quickly as he wants.
“A Haunting in Venice”
When: September 15th.
Rated: PG-13 for strong violence, disturbing images and thematic elements.
Duration: 1 hour, 43 minutes.
Stars (out of four): 3.
https://www.twincities.com/2023/09/13/a-haunting-in-venice-review-spooky-fun-seance-soiree-with-hercule-poirot/ Creepy-funny séance soiree with Hercule Poirot – Twin Cities