The spirits within push this Branagh mystery franchise higher.
Kenneth Branagh’s take on Hercule Poirot has transitioned from an Agatha Christie character to an iconic movie name, and I’m not insulting literature in any way. Three films have made and they keep on climbing. The first was “Murder on the Orient Express,” which I felt could have been better within its narrative. The second was last year’s “Death on the Nile,” which was an improvement. And the third, and the subject of this written review is “A Haunting in Venice,” which was renamed from the book “Hallowe’en Party,” and is the best of the series.
It’s a franchise that pushes itself further inside the horror genre, one that doesn’t rely on jump scares as “The Nun II” did, but chooses to really test our senses and keeps us guessing.
Now set in post WWII Venice, Hercule is now retired and has his bodyguard Vitale (Riccardo Scamarcio) throwing would-be clients in the canal. That’s how famous he has become and that’s how retired he is.
Out of the blue comes his old friend-the famous author Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey), who invites him for a Halloween party at the home of Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly), whose daughter Alicia has died a tragic death. He’s now been roped into a seance by the medium Mrs. Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh), who communicates with the dead with a typewriter. She’s more of the secretary type, as she says.
Then, a storm hits Venice, and a murder has taken place (I can’t say who). This is when Hercule comes out of retirement and locks everyone in the house.
Here are the additional list of suspects.
There’s the PTSD-stricken Dr. Leslie Ferrier (Jamie Dornan) and his precocious son Leopold (Jude Hill). A “Belfast” reunion between them and Branagh, wouldn’t you say. The doctor can’t get over his tragic past in the war, while the boy reads Edgar Allen Poe books, basically takes care of his father, and dresses like he’s going to be in a “Kingman” spin-off called “Kingman Kids.” I doubt that would happen, but that’s how I see him.
The nanny Olga (Camille Cotton) already feels haunted by whatever dark secrets the family she takes care of holds. You can tell by her disposition.
Next, Alicia’s former intended Maxime Gerald (Kyle Allen), whom Mrs. Drake despises, especially when he calls off the wedding. And why does he still have a picture of the girl in his pocket?
And finally, we have the siblings Nicholas (Ali Khan) and Desdemona Holland (Emma Laird), who help Mrs. Reynolds with her rituals, and want to live their lives in Missouri.
It takes awhile for us to process all the new characters, but they’re still well-acted and well-directed by Branagh. He’s a filmmaker and actor who knows how to work people, and how to pull us in. And he also continues to play Poirot with skill and class without hamming things up.
I like to favorably compare Fey’s character to the Julia Louis-Dreyfus character Valentina in the MCU. These are two female comedy stars on different territories, and if there was a poll in which one of them has to go. I would vote for Val to go, and Ariadne Oliver to stay. I like the way she calls the detective Hercules, and I like how she has an interesting connection with Branagh in this sense.
There are two entertaining threequels this month that shares its passion for Italy in its own special way. “The Equalizer 3” chooses to be an action thriller, while “A Haunting in Venice” pushes the murder mystery into the horror genre. And I really love how the story takes place during a storm by the canal. It really sets the mood and tone, and had me at the edge of my seat.
Don’t let the title scare you from seeing it, and I clarified to my parents it was part of Branagh’s detective franchise.
This article was written by me with full support of the SAG-AFTRA and Writers Guild of America strikes.