A Haunting in Venice (2023)
Can a ghost, an impaled victim, and a locked-door mystery re-invigorate an aging Poirot? Let's see ...
Certain things you can count on when Agatha Christie puts Hercule Poirot on a case. Poirot (in this case Kenneth Branaugh, who is also doing double duty as the director) will be drawn somewhat reluctantly into a social gathering that includes a mélange of characters. Some overly prideful, others obviously duplicitous, or some obsessive, or just plain looney. And these people have complicated relationships, a miasma of animosity floating in the air.
And someone will die.
First mystery: Why is this called A Haunting in Venice and not A Murder in Venice? The twist: A retired Poirot is lured to a seance, on Halloween of all days, by mystery writer Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey). She's hoping to have another best seller by writing up how he exposes a medium who appears to be the real thing. Poirot, who is beginning to doubt his capabilities, wants nothing more than to enjoy his tea and pastry. But he succumbs to the pleading of his writer friend. Will this adventure invigorate the uncertain Poirot?
It's literally a dark and stormy night. Of course, their destination is a haunted house, owned by famed opera singer Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly), where her daughter died because of what she believes are the vengeful spirits of children who were victimized there years ago. The event: a seance to summon her daughter's spirit.
Indeed, medium Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh) seems very convincing. Even Poirot seems perplexed when, after apparently exposing the fraud, Reynolds speaks in the dead daughter's voice, saying someone in the room murdered her.
Time for someone to die. Another thing you can count on is that the guests will all be trapped in a confined space. Yes! The storm makes impossible for anyone to leave. So Poirot goes to work with his interrogation. For good measure, a second, locked-room murder gets tossed into the mix.
What makes an Agathy Christie (or any writer's) murder mystery watchable? You have to judge whether the clues were scattered in such a way that you might be able to solve the thing yourself before the detective does.
The clues Poirot spots are not something the normal movie watcher is going to catch as the action streams by. But they seem plausible enough to make you feel the filmmakers were being fair. And clever enough not to be too obvious as well.
Thrown into the mix this time: the usually unflappable Poirot is seeing visions himself, reinforcing his own self doubts.
Branaugh may not be perfect as Poirot, but then who could equal Peter Ustinov. But he is quite good, as is Fey as the fast-talking writer who wants to ride Poirot's coat tails to revive a flagging career.
Still, the best performance comes from the precocious kid character, Leopold (Jude Hill), who is genuinely creepy as he lurks at the corners of the action, obviously knowing more than he's letting on.
Mystery solved, Poirot reveals the final minor secrets that bring a satisfying conclusion to the many subplots. And has Poirot himself emerged reinvigorated? The clues are there.