Director and star Kenneth Branagh keeps chugging with his third movie based on the Agatha Christie mystery novels in which he plays famous detective Hercule Poirot. It’s been a while since Branagh has dabbled in horror, so A Haunting in Venice looked like it could be a creepy late-summer treat from a director with more hits than misses.
Nope; instead, it’s a sleepy disaster. Stodgy, stumbling and just absolutely tedious, A Haunting in Venice is one of the worst films of Branagh’s directorial career. It’s a wonder the movie ever got made.
After the box-office failure of his second Poirot film, Death on the Nile, Branagh got his budget cut for this one, and it shows. The movie is a more intimate affair and takes place mostly in one location—an old house that goes bump in the night. There’s a lot of darkness, terribly shaky handheld camera work, and a generally small vibe—making this chapter the worst of the franchise.
Poirot is called out of retirement by author Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey, easily the best thing in the movie), who wants him to witness a séance and possibly debunk a medium named Mrs. Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh). The séance reveals a few surprises, and somebody, of course, is “merrrrr-derrrrred,” so Poirot locks everybody in the aforementioned house—and goes about deducing things.
So, somebody has been killed. Did a ghost do it? Is this a real haunting in Venice? Well, there’s no chance the normally grounded character of Poirot is going to go all supernatural and become a ghostbuster, so there must be another explanation. The roster of suspects is rather bland, played by the likes of Jamie Dornan as the crazy doctor, Kelly Reilly as the mother of a previously “possibly” murdered daughter, Jude Hill as the creepy kid who looks like one of the pre-teen Culkin brothers, and some other characters you won’t give a damn about.
When Poirot starts to put together the pieces of the mystery, the revelations are easily guessed—or at least they were to me. My first guess about the culprit was, in fact, correct, so not only was the film boring during its running time; the conclusion was lame, too.
When the movie is trying to be scary, Branagh resorts to screechy music, lightning flashes, jump scares (that don’t scare) and shrill screams. It’s a smorgasbord of horror-movie clichés, with not one moment coming off as original. The scariest thing in this movie is a POV shot of Branagh’s face as he’s underwater bobbing for apples. It’s almost like he is making out with those apples, and it’s kind of off-putting.
I was not a big fan of the previous movies (Nile and Murder on the Orient Express), but those were lavish, good-looking affairs. While they failed to wow with their mysteries, they were swell to look at and (mostly) finely acted. Venice is bland across the board, visually and contextually.
The film did a little better than Nile on its opening weekend, but not necessarily good enough to justify another one of these movies. It couldn’t beat the second weekend of The Nun II; it probably won’t make its money back during its domestic release; and, oh yeah, it’s one of the year’s dreariest movies. I’d prefer a sequel to Branagh’s Cinderella before another deflating Hercule Poirot chapter.