FILM REVIEW — Logical crime thriller meets atmospheric ghost story

Published 12:04 am Friday, September 15, 2023

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“A Haunting in Venice”

20th Century Studios

Directed by Kenneth Branagh

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Starring Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Yeoh, Camille Cottin, Jamie Dornan, Tina Fey and Jude Hill

Rated PG-13

3 Stars

“A Haunting in Venice” marks the third time that Sir Kenneth Branagh has played famed detective Hercule Poirot in a movie adaptation of an Agatha Christie murder mystery.

Fans of the genre will be pleased to learn that this is once again a well-mounted whodunit. The surprise comes from the fact that this is also something of an atmospheric ghost story.

Granted, the movie’s title should clue you in to the supernatural elements of the story, but it’s not a natural setting for a detective known for using logic and detailed observations to solve the crime.

I absolutely loved that the film is still a crime thriller, but the cinematography, music and location setting all conspire to turn this into a spooky haunted house movie.

It all starts out when one of Poirot’s friends (Tina Fey) invites him to attend a Halloween night séance, saying that she needs his deductive skills to determine if the medium (Michelle Yeoh) is a con artist or the real deal.

The séance takes place in an old Italian mansion that is reputed to be haunted. It won’t take long before fresh murders will add to the number of ghostly inhabitants.

I’ll stop short of giving away too much of the plot, as I don’t want to spoil things. Much of the fun in these movies comes from matching wits with the detective and trying to figure out what’s happening before the film’s final reveal.

This mystery isn’t too difficult to figure out, but the supernatural elements do add fun challenges to the story.

Branagh is, once again, wonderfully cast as the oddball detective with the notable mustache. The rest of the actors are also quite good, although there were moments when Fey’s comic timing seemed ill-suited to what was happening in the story.

Jamie Dornan, playing a World War II doctor with battle fatigue was also a little jarring at times, but that might be excused in a story that feels at times as if it were designed for the stage rather than the cinema.

For my money, it’s the wonderful production design that makes this film so much better than other less-ambitious movies. As much as I enjoyed the story and the acting, it’s the look, sound and feel of this haunted house that makes this mystery so much fun.

That hasn’t always been the case in these movies. The last film in this series, “A Death on the Nile” featured some iffy special effects that blunted the movie’s impact. Not so here.

All of these below the line elements work wonderfully in tandem to make “A Haunting in Venice” into something more than just another stuffy old murder mystery.

Indeed, “A Haunting in Venice” is so much fun that I hope that Branagh will continue making these movies for years to come.

Hercule Poirot appeared in 33 Agatha Christie novels, not to mention the numerous plays and short stories, so there are plenty of stories to draw upon, should he wish to continue.

Movie reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published each week in Port Arthur Newsmedia and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at