A Haunting in Venice

Third time’s the charm

The legendary detective Hercule Poirot, now living in self-exile in post-WWII Venice and a tad bored with retirement, reluctantly agrees to attend a séance conducted by a noted seer, expecting to find a little amusement in debunking the surely fake ritual. He does, but then one of the guests is murdered because, well, it’s a murder mystery, innit?

This is actor/director Kenneth Branagh’s third take on an Agatha Christie whodunit. Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile were sumptuously produced, well directed and expertly acted. But they took some flak, including from me, for their occasional bombastic Hollywood flourishes. Like a carriage chase or a gunfight. Not this time. 

That doesn’t mean he hasn’t tweaked the source material. Dame Agatha’s Hallowe’en Party was set in London. Changing it to a moody gothic horror tale and moving it to a rotting Venetian palazzo works very well. It’s spooky without resorting to jump scares (mostly) and, well, supernaturally believable. Also a lot of fun.

Branagh again casts himself as the preening sleuth, Tina Fey (channeling Christie?) is slyly funny as the mystery novelist who chronicles his cases, and Michelle Yeoh is spot-on as the seer. And kudos to screenwriter Michael Green. 

Bottom line: If even an imperfect film adaptation of a Christie novel causes new generations to seek out her many books, then that’s a good thing. (103 min)

Out in theaters now.