Revenge of the Poirot Mustache: Our Review of ‘A Haunting in Venice’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - September 15, 2023
Revenge of the Poirot Mustache: Our Review of ‘A Haunting in Venice’

Debuting in theatres this weekend, A Haunting in Venice marks the third adaptation of an Agatha Christie-written, Hercule Poirot-centred novel, directed and starring Kenneth Branagh as the literary detective. In what appears to be an attempt to carry on the same branding as the first two features, Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile, this adaptation of Christie’s classic novel ‘Hallowe’en Party’ gets renamed with a location in the title. Branagh also uses the film to reunite with two of his Belfast stars, Jamie Dornan and Jude Hill, but with differing levels of success.

Now comfortably retired in a post-WW2 Venice, replete with a bodyguard Portfoglio (Riccardo Scamarcio) that keeps would-be clients at bay, Poirot (Branagh) seems content to stay out of the spotlight. But when the author Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey), whose thinly veiled retellings of Poirot’s past exploits helped garner him his fame, comes knocking, Poirot can’t help but be intrigued. It seems Ariadne wants Poirot to attend a séance held by Ms. Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly), an attempt to reach her deceased daughter Alicia (Rowan Robinson), under the guise of outing the medium Mrs. Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh) as a fraud. All goes as you would expect, with Poirot outing things almost immediately. But soon after the seance’s conclusion, a murder occurs and inclement weather forces all the guests, including doctor Leslie Ferrier (Jaime Dornan) and his son Leopold (Jude Hill), a longtime servant Olga (Camille Cottin), Reynolds’ assistants (Emma Laird and Ali Kahn) and Alicia’s former fiancé Maxime (Kyle Allen), into staying the night. In the old, near-gothic, and partially dilapidated house, Poirot is forced back into action to solve not only the murder that has just happened but also to bring to light the details surrounding Alicia’s death one year prior.

The marketing behind A Haunting in Venice may lead potential audiences to make assumptions about it. But it is much less a ghost story than it is a traditional whodunnit with gothic overtones, not that it’s a bad thing though. In fact, A Haunting in Venice surpasses the previous 2 instalments in the film series in the use of its location and overall pacing. Coming in just shy of 100 minutes, it’s the first in the series to clock in under 2 hours long, and the film moves along at a nice, crisp pace because of this. The Drake house is a wonderfully realised set with plenty of the secrets associated with an older home built in and utilised to help deepen the mystery and tell the story. Poirot’s apparitions seem right at home here, which is why the other characters, and perhaps some of the audience, are so eager to buy into their existence.

It’s hard to get into a criticism of Branagh’s performance here as this is the third time portraying Poirot and his Poirot feels more like a natural extension for him at this point. I actually enjoyed watching Fey play off character for herself here. Her character does mix some humour into the proceedings but Fey is used mainly as a straight woman in Poirot’s investigation here and she does the job well. Some audiences will find it strange to hear Reilly use her native English accent as they associate her with her southern drawl from Yellowstone. But thankfully, she’s solid here as the grieving mother at the heart of the story. Yeoh famously turned down a lead in another project to be a supporting character here, and you can tell she’s having fun. 

But the two  real standouts from the main cast are Jude Hill and Riccardo Scamarcio as the pair both deliver knockout performances where they steal the spotlight in almost every scene they appear in. Sadly the same can’t be said about Dornan, who appears utterly lost and incapable of playing his role without going wildly over the top in a film where nothing else is treated as campy. It’s a performance that sticks out like a sore thumb and it’s such a shame after he and Branagh worked so well together previously.

The setting here is gorgeous and the way Branagh uses the house and Venice itself is masterful. The original book takes place in England, but Branagh smartly chooses to move the setting and the end result is very satisfying. A Haunting in Venice shows that Branagh has finally arrived at a formula to crank out an excellent Poirot mystery and actually manages to outperform the previous two entries in the series. It’s a highly enjoyable, briskly paced, and efficient murder mystery that should leave audiences in anticipation of the next chapter of the Poirot saga.

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"Kirk Haviland is an entertainment industry veteran of over 20 years- starting very young in the exhibition/retail sector before moving into criticism, writing with many websites through the years and ultimately into festival work dealing in programming/presenting and acquisitions. He works tirelessly in the world of Canadian Independent Genre Film - but is also a keen viewer of cinema from all corners of the globe (with a big soft spot for Asian cinema!)
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