After solving many murder mysteries, Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is now living a life of retirement. Living in a quiet home in Venice, Poirot often finds people lined up at his door, pleading for his help and problem-solving skills. However, he refuses to assist the many people seeking his help whenever he leaves the house, carefully escorted by a bodyguard. In the present day, it’s evident that Poirot cares only for his solitary peace and the success of daily deliveries of tasty pastries.
One day, while sitting on the rooftop of his home, Poirot is alerted that an old friend, Ariadne (Tina Fey) Oliver, is at his doorstep. Ariadne needs the help of Poirot. While seeking ideas for her next book, Ariadne has stumbled on something strange, significant, and highly unexplainable: a woman who can communicate with the souls that have left their dead bodies. At first, Poirot treats this information as impossible nonsense but soon agrees to attend a séance with Ariadne, hoping to find clues to expose the woman as a fake. However, when Poirot attends a séance for a grieving family, not only do various unexplainable things occur, but also a horrifying murder. Now, with a wild storm occurring outside and no other choice available, Poirot locks the front door and begins to conduct an investigation, seeking the truth about the supernatural and who, among them, is, in fact, a murderer.
For those unaware, A Haunting in Venice is the third instalment of Kenneth Branagh’s portrayal of the famous and brilliant detective Hercule Poirot. As his third film about this character, I’m pleased to see everything taken to the next level, especially by introducing a supernatural and horror element, which feels new and fresh. Poirot as a character is also different. For personal reasons, he is done with conducting investigations. Still, we soon see him not only tackling another murder case but also investigating the supernatural. Are there ghosts lurking around the building? Are the voices he hears real, or is everything around him somehow fake? All this puts the lead in a position we’ve never seen before, instantly making the film engaging for fans of the character and those seeking a solid thrill.
Visually, this is also the darkest film to date within the series. The title says it all, but essentially, Poirot is investigating what feels like a haunted mansion. Everything about this film is visually dark, and many creepy aspects will keep viewers guessing and perhaps even jumping out of their seats at various moments. Given the haunting elements throughout, the Director, Kenneth Branagh, tries to be more creative than ever through his filming. The various shot sizes, angles and camera movements create a claustrophobic and tight atmosphere. While these film shots are clever and fun at key moments, they can also be distracting or a little too much at other times.
When it comes to performances, once again, we see the actor delivering what I feel is his best portrayal of the character to date. Humour and witty comedy are improved significantly in this film, especially whenever Poirot interacts with his close friend Ariadne, played by Tina Fey. As usual, there are also many suspects with various personalities. I found the story’s pacing great, and it doesn’t take long for our lead to step into investigating mode. As for the twist and big reveal, I found some aspects of the story obvious. On the other hand, the film’s finale did surprise me, delivering a solid conclusion that I’m confident audiences will appreciate in some form.
Overall, Kenneth Branagh delivers another enjoyable portrayal of the classic character Poirot. The atmosphere and the tone have changed dramatically this time, which was a wise and welcomed choice. Our wise-cracking detective and lover of pastry is now in a world of séances, ghosts and baffling unexplainable events. Kenneth Branagh also delivers the best version of the character to date. As a Director, it’s evident that he’s trying to make the film impacting, especially via the spooky themes throughout. Some minor aspects of the twists and turns are apparent, but once told, the core mystery was highly satisfying to the point that this may be the most enjoyable film within the franchise. Once you know the essential details, you’ll likely be keen to return to this film. Still, in a single viewing, there’s undoubtedly some great entertainment and delight to be had here.