If you don’t like Dutch angles, don’t watch A Haunting In Venice. Kenneth Branagh, the man known for his proclivity for that specific, audience-anxiety-inducing camera angle, is back for his third Hercule Poirot film. This time, it’s based on the Agatha Christie novel Hallowe’en Party. It’s a direct sequel to Death on the Nile, but if you skipped out on that film, you only need to know that Hercule Poirot, the world’s greatest detective, is retired. That’s it. The story this time features Poirot solving a suicide that the family feels like was a murder. A mysterious psychic/medium (played by Michelle Yeoh) is called in to muddle the mixture of a broken family. They’re joined by Tiny Fey, Camille Cottin, Jamie Dornan, Jude Hill, Ali Khan, Emma Laird, Kelly Reilly, and Riccardo Scamarcio.

The cast this time might not be absolutely filled to the brim with A-listers or character actors like in Murder on the Orient Express or Death on the Nile, but the ensemble cobbled together here fits with the horror aesthetic more. The dynamic between Fey and Branagh is the relationship to watch in the film. Their dialogue and mannerisms aid the idea that these two have been friends for years and that Fey’s character Ariadne Oliver was the one that brought Poirot to the mainstream consciousness with her novels. It’s a nice bit of history meets reality because Agatha Christie herself obviously inspires her. The idea that Christie would resent Poirot a bit is a fun thought.

The rest of the cast does their roles admirably. It’s a shame that Yeoh ends up as a glorified cameo because she sets the spooky story on its way. Out of the ensemble, Kelly Reilly shines as the mother of the deceased Alicia Drake. There’s something bubbling up under the surface with her, but like a good mystery, there is with all the principal players. A Haunting In Venice takes plenty of twists and turns with each character, even making you think a 10-year-old boy could be the culprit in a series of gruesome murders. By the end, there are plenty of revelations about each of the characters that aren’t just about the murders on-screen.

For those looking for a frightening Poirot story that isn’t Murder In Mesopotamia, this is it.

Just Enough Frights, Still An Excellent Mystery

For horror heads out there, this might not be the scare-fest it’s being marketed as. But throughout the film, Branagh picks and chooses spots to include some legitimately terrifying scenes. The way the film plays with Poirot’s knowledge of the world and his crisis of faith is fascinating. He’s a broken man after seeing two World Wars, friends die, and seemingly death following him everywhere. He knows what he is, and that’s why he’s retired for good. Except this case draws him back in. At this point, Branagh could act his way around cardboard cutouts and make it interesting as Poirot. So, seeing him in situations that befuddle even the world’s greatest detective is remarkable. The film’s supernatural elements are the best parts because like Poirot, we don’t know what’s real and what isn’t.

Back to the scares, though. There are several sprinkled throughout, but the camera direction, atmosphere, and score really do the job of frightening audiences. Branagh leans heavily on the setting, an old Italian mansion on the canals of Venice. The sweeping shots of the city during the day juxtapose the dark, dreary shots of the city at night during a storm. Once the murders start happening, the film really kicks into spooky gear.

The murders on-screen are brutal. Normally, we just get someone stabbed, shot, or poisoned. Not in A Haunting In Venice. Someone gets impaled, brutally stabbed, thrown off a building, and more. It’s quite gruesome at times, and this movie doesn’t pull any punches in that category.

Give Us Twenty More Kenneth Branagh Poirot Stories

The way that this movie twists the moral and metaphysical crisis that Poirot is under into the plot of a murder at a seance is masterful. It’s the most human we’ve ever seen Poirot portrayed on screen. There are layers upon layers to Branagh’s performance and this story. When you reach the end, the question still remains: “What is real and what isn’t?”

The smaller feel of this film aids with the thrilling Halloween mystery on display. It might not be the supernatural spooky-fest that it’s advertised as, but you get something much more out of it by the finish. As a viewer, you’re in and out in about 100 minutes. A Haunting In Venice doesn’t stick around for very long on-screen, but it’ll stick around with you like a ghost.

A Haunting In Venice releases in theaters on September 15th, 2023.

For more on Halloween, make sure to check out Fright-A-Thon, the two-month-long Halloween content marathon!

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