We are trapped in a cycle of diminishing returns when it comes to Kenneth Branagh's Hercule Poirot films. ORIENT EXPRESS was a beautifully done, subtly updated, but largely respectful adaptation of the Agatha Christie source material. NILE was also lavish and earnest in its attempts to update the material, but by changing an intricate plot, Branagh utterly ruined the story. And now we have A HAUNTING IN VENICE, incredibly losely adapted from A Halloween Story. It works neither as detective fiction nor as a ghost story.
Branagh stars as Poirot, now retired and reclusive, in post World War Two Venice. He is tempted out of his mansion by his old friend, detective author Ariadne Oliver, played by Tina Fey as if she's in a Screwball Comedy. It's a great performance but one wonders which film it actually belongs to. They are not trying to investigate a murder but to debunk a medium called Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh), who Oliver and Poirot feel is exploiting the grief of opera singer Rowena Drake (Yellowstone's Kelly Reilly). Rowena recently lost her daughter and gathers a motley crew in her spooky Venetian house to make contact with her. There's the daughter's fiancé Maxime, the family doctor and his precocious son, her housekeeper, and Joyce's assistant. When a storm sets in, we find ourselves in a locked-house mystery.
Writer Michael Green does not have form in creating his own murder-mystery plot and this one barely hangs together. Worse still, he lazily uses the Holocaust as character short-hand device. This seems crude, especially in a film where Tina Fey is then trying to be a wise-cracking broad. Pick a lane! I also didn't find the jump scares and obscure angles particularly frightening or effective. What a waste of a great cast and location!
A HAUNTING IN VENICE was released in cinemas in September and is now available on Hulu or other PVOD streaming services. It is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 103 minutes.