The Kenneth Branaugh/Agatha Christie franchise (if that is the right word to use) has had somewhat of a troubling history, but now its third installment, A Haunting In Venice, is currently in theaters gaining praises from audiences.
Branagh, working as both as director and star, began the project in 2017 with an adaption of one of Christie’s most popular works: Murder on the Orient Express. The film featured an all-star cast and was generally enjoyable. In 2022, the disastrous Death on the Nile was released to low box office and poor reviews. It didn’t help that the film uses what appears to be mostly poorly lit greenscreen and heavily featured the disgraced Armie Hammer. Despite the successes and losses of these films, a charm and mystery behind them was that another one was always deemed theatrically releasable.
A Haunting in Venice is actually quite pleasant, especially when compared to Death on the Nile. The film, released in September, is seasonally appropriate and features a vastly beautiful aesthetic, largely taking place in a gorgeously mysterious Venetian piazza.
The story is based on Christie’s book Hallowe’en Party and features Branagh’s Hercule Poroit, who has retired following the events of Death on the Nile,as he states that the death follows him wherever he goes. Poroit is invited to a Halloween party, which is taking place in said piazza, to attend a séance performed a famed psychic, Mrs. Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh). On the way, Poroit is confronted with mystery author and Christie stand-in Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey), who aims to attend the séance and use it for inspiration for her next novel.
Poroit is further introduced to a larger cast of characters, including a woman who is mourning the death of her daughter (Kelly Reilly) and a doctor (Jamie Dornan). Our main character must then discover the means of the daughter’s death, be it murder—or something supernatural. If the film has any strengths, it’s that it looks extremely beautiful. With looming green undertones that contrast well with the orange of the Venetian rooftops, the film is extremely appropriate for the fall season. The light contrasts the shininess of the characters’ faces as they deal with the weight of the mystery.
However, Hallowe’en Party is not one of Christie’s seminal works and not one that will likely be Branagh’s either. The plot, mystery included, is one thing, but it feels a bit tired if one is familiar with Christie’s canon. But that might just be the trick to understanding the film. Fans of Christie will surely delight in the classic twist that she (and the film) present. Ironically, it may be this sort of unpredictable predictability that makes Christie’s legacy permanent and keeps studio executives and creatives alike interested in adapting her work. You may not be able to guess the ending, but you know that it will end. It may be that in starting Poiroit out in an emotional slump, Branagh means to demonstrate the purpose of Christie’s work, which is to give us this very thing.
A Haunting In Venice is pleasant enough for the casual Agatha Christie fan, but likely even better for those who have stuck with her till the end.
A Haunting In Venice is a decent film, and is extremely appropriate for the fall season. It is true to the Agatha Christie experience but may not resonate with some viewers. The visuals and the performances make the film worthwhile, though the narrative is somewhat elementary.