I first fell in love with mysteries as a child with The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, but Agatha Christie lit the fire that keeps me reading, watching, and writing mysteries. It is a passion I used to share with my mom. Director Kenneth Branagh and screenwriter Michael Green adapt (changing many aspects of the tale) Christie’s novel Hallowe’en Party and give us A Haunting in Venice, starring Branagh, Tina Fey, Kelly Rielly, and Michelle Yeoh. From the trailers, one might assume that its genre is horror, but filmmakers stay faithful to Christie’s formulaic who-dun-it style, if not to the story’s plot. While there are some chilling aspects, A Haunting in Venice pleases fans with twists, thrills, red herrings, and Hercule Poirot.
When author Ariadne Oliver (Fey) seeks out the retired Poirot (Branagh), who cannot resist the idea of proving that a medium named Ms. Reynolds (Yeoh) is a fraud, the pair travels to Venice, where a storm is brewing and a Halloween party for local orphans is in full swing. Their host and the woman of the house, Rowena Drake (Rielly), invites Ms. Reynolds to perform a séance so she can speak to her dead daughter again. Poirot, ever the detective, agrees to participate, and the dead girl’s former fiancé, Maxime Gerard (Kyle Allen), joins them, along with Poirot’s bodyguard (former policeman Vitale Portfoglio) (Riccardo Scamarcio), a family caretaker Olga Seminoff (Camille Cottin) and other key players. Of course, a murder (or two) occurs, and Poirot, who is nearly murdered himself, rises to the occasion and immediately starts sleuthing.
While the characters are strong, the actors perfect, and the story engaging, cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos’ keen eye and attention to detail truly deliver. He manages haunting shots and an excellent use of angular lenses and evocative lighting. Branagh uses an ideal amount of fright factor, not lingering too long on scares. As he should, he focuses on the mystery and solving the murders. Green tosses in the requisite red herrings and surprising twists, making our job more difficult, but as expected, Poirot solves the mystery, and he lives to investigate another day.
While not totally true to its source material, A Haunting in Venice entertains, and Ms. Christie would likely approve. I am proud to say I figured out the killer’s identity the minute they came on screen, thanks to decades of reading mystery novels. Those whom I watched with did not and gave mixed reviews. Don’t let the scary trailers deter you. A Haunting in Venice offers a pleasing balance of intrigue and frights. I am placing 4 stars up top. It’s not perfect, but it does amuse and will make a fun Halloween diversion.