"A Haunting in Venice" is director/star Kenneth Branagh's third go-around as Agatha Christie-penned detective Hercule Poirot. The other two were 2017's "Murder on the Orient Express" and 2022's "Death on the Nile." "A Haunting in Venice" comes barely a year and a half after the latter film, though the turnaround is less impressive when one remembers that trailers for "Death on the Nile" were playing a year and a half before that film opened, with the release suffering numerous delays. Those delays may have turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because unlike the sequels I've reviewed the last two weeks, Branagh's Poirot is relatively fresh in my mind, and I'm more eager to step back into his world.
In fact, it's Poirot himself that is uneager to step back into the world of mystery and danger. Ten years have passed since the events of "Death on the Nile," and Poirot is retired, spending his days blowing off prospective clients with the help of his bodyguard Vitale (Riccardo Scamarcio) and only enjoying Venice for its pastries. For those keeping score, this version of Italy is slightly more appealing than the crime-ridden take of "Equalizer 3," but far less than the glorified travel brochure that was "Book Club: The Next Chapter."
Poirot's determination to not challenge himself is interrupted by Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey, a very of-her-era actress that feels out of place in this 1947-set movie), a mystery novelist from America. She's about to do a book on psychic Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh), who has thus far evaded exposure as a fraud. Oliver wants Poirot to either figure Reynolds out or decide she's the real deal so the project can continue. Poirot, skeptic that he is of anything beyond this world, agrees to what he's sure will be a humiliating debunking for Reynolds.
That night, Halloween Night, Reynolds holds a seance at the home of retired opera singer Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly). Rowena's daughter Alicia was found drowned in a canal some time ago, and she thinks Reynolds can help her find closure. Poirot, Oliver, and Vitale attend the seance, as well as Rowena's housekeeper Olga (Camille Cottin), doctor Ferrier (Jamie Dornan) and his creepily mature son Leopold (Jude Hill), Reynolds' assistants Desdemona (Emma Laird) and Nicholas (Ali Khan), and in case things weren't tense enough, Alicia's ex-fiance Maxime (Kyle Allen). During the seance, Reynolds, allegedly channeling Alicia, claims that she was murdered. A less ambiguous murder soon follows, and Poirot is on the case.
Like all Poirot mysteries, the night is full of twists and turns, with secret after secret coming to light and everybody having a chance to play the prime suspect. Unique to this one is the possibility of something supernatural going on. Poirot can swear that there's a little girl in the mansion that nobody else can see or hear. There has to be a logical/scientific explanation... unless there isn't?
Once "A Haunting in Venice" gets going, the excitement is consistent until the mystery is solved. All that's left for the viewer at that point is to deduce how smart they were at figuring things out. Were they right or wrong? And if they were wrong, was it because they missed something, or did the movie keep an important clue hidden until the last minute? Were the clues that were there too easy or too hard? Could only a world-class detective like Poirot have solved this mystery? For me, I thought it was a mix of all of these, which gives me mixed feelings on the movie overall. But I won't deny that the experience is a fun ride regardless of how you feel about the ending, or the mystery in retrospect.
"A Haunting in Venice" is rated PG-13 for some strong violence, disturbing images and thematic elements. Its running time is 103 minutes.