At first glance, “A Haunting in Venice” looks like a horror film — between the title and the promotional poster, which features a skull against a black background, one could be forgiven for mistaking it as such. I was delighted to discover it is an adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel, “Halloween Party.”
“A Haunting in Venice” is the third installment in the series starring Kenneth Branagh as a famous detective, Hercule Poirot. While the film is rated PG-13 and does feature a few jump scares and gory scenes, “A Haunting in Venice” is not what I would call horror — it is more a detective story with a spooky flavor, perfect for the season.
The plot is standard Agatha Christie fare — someone was murdered, and Poirot has to figure out who did it. He must choose from an ensemble of suspects who are all staying in the same location for the duration of the tale. In this case, a famous opera singer believes her daughter was killed, and the cast of characters assembles on Halloween night: an author (Tina Fey) who bases her writings off Poirot’s real-life feats, a mentally unwell doctor (Jamie Dornan) and his precocious son, a spiritual medium (Michelle Yeoh) and her two sidekicks, and the former fiancée of the deceased.
Like Holmes, Pym, and other fictional detectives of note, Poirot uses his outstanding powers of rationality and observation to see things others overlook. It is recommended to bring a friend to these films and sit a few rows away from others, so you can whisper and guess who the culprit is. As with most of Agatha’s stories, you will likely be unable to guess the murderer — or, as in my case, you might guess correctly but not know the criminal's motives or be able to prove your suspicion until Poirot lays it all bare. It is always fun to watch incredulously as he pieces together clues that were there the whole time for the audience to see.
Other than the opening and closing scene, the entire film takes place in a creepy palazzo in Venice, with lots of shadows lurking in the flames. It is the perfect atmosphere for a Halloween film, spooky in a fun way, but never overly gruesome or unnecessarily dark. You are left wondering whether the supernatural elements are real and if there are spirits meddling with our characters, or whether Poirot’s stark rationalism will prevail.
My only criticism would be the rather mixed acting — Branagh is solid, and Michelle Yeoh is excellent as always, but Tina Fey cannot act and her script is not great either. Her expository dialogue at the beginning is stilted and heavy handed; it was a bit jarring. Jamie Dornan takes a while to warm up as well, but eventually you find yourself easing into the story and being taken for a ride. While “A Haunting in Venice” is not groundbreaking or even particularly memorable, it is great for a fun evening with friends during the season, and I would certainly recommend it. It is especially good for those who have weaker stomachs but still want to partake in the festivities, since there’s only one gory scene throughout, and it’s not an intense one.