Actor/Director Kenneth Branagh (Oppenheimer) and screenwriter Michael Green (Blade Runner 2049) are back, once again in league with Hercule Poirot to solve a mystery no one else could. Like previous entries in the series, the two are a powerhouse combination determined to deliver a memorable picture that is both intriguing and entertaining.
Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is enjoying his retirement - so much so that he’s hired a bodyguard to keep everyone from him. But when his old acquaintance Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey) shows up and insists he help her debunk the one spirit medium she hasn’t been able to, he reluctantly agrees. The event is at a purportedly haunted former orphanage, now owned by soprano Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly), whose daughter died the year before. It isn’t long before murder occurs, starting with the medium, Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh). Now, Poirot is begrudgingly on the case, but there’s a catch. It seems some of the supernatural things he was in attendance to debunk might not be so manufactured after all. To solve the case, he might just need the help of a dead girl’s spirit.
Branagh has a keen sense for directing tense scenes. This precision is especially true in the Poirot films. Starting with a minor jump-scare to set the mood, he quickly moves to more subtle effects. Every scene is carefully laid out, and every actor and prop is precisely where it needs to be to keep the mystery going while giving clever clues to the outcome. The only time this is shaken is towards the end. Green, a veteran of the Poirot films, doesn’t handle the space between the reveals well, creating a bit of a drag on the pace. The cast mostly rolls with this. Branagh is as good as Poirot as he is at directing the character’s world. Fey gives a rousing performance for most of the film, although she falters a bit in the same moments the script does.
The cinematography has a beautiful flair, whether a dark internal shot, a lovely long shot of post-World War II Venice, or a medium shot of gondolas on the canals of The Floating City. Each is carefully planned around equally exquisite props and locations. There is a lot to see in the background of every scene - some of it is important, and some of it is misdirection or just nice to look at. Which is which must be determined by the audience. The soundtrack weaves its way through the film, adding appropriately eerie touches here and there.
A Haunting in Venice is a luxurious film in general and a classic mystery in particular. Despite minor flaws, it is a fun and entertaining film. Fans of the genre and campfire-style ghost stories are sure to enjoy the movie because, like its lead character, the filmmakers are possessed with perfection.