When your world is grounded in science, how can you explain the spiritual?
Directed and starring Kenneth Branagh, A Haunting in Venice is the third entry into his Hercule Poirot revival. Hiding away in Post-WWII Venice, Poirot (Branagh) wishes dearly to retire from having to solve the world’s problems. After he’s approached by an old friend on All Hallows’ Eve, he begrudgingly agrees to join her at a séance in a haunted mansion. However, Poirot can never seem to escape murder most foul and, suddenly, one of the guests dies suspiciously. Thrust back into action, Poirot finds himself caught between science and spirituality as he attempts to solve the puzzle in front of him.
In many ways, Branagh seems to have found a renewed sense of creative energy with this trip to Venice. Best known for his adaptations of Shakespeare, Branagh seems to be having a lot more fun behind the camera here. Rapid cuts, creative camera work, and jump scares mark his tribute to the horror genre without ever betraying the tone of the material.
Christie’s work has always shown a great attention to detail, and Branagh clearly admires the purity of her work. As such, despite his free-wheeling camera work, the director still keeps the focus on the classical elements of Christie’s work. All the tropes of Christie’s work are emulated here, including the famed ‘final reveal with the suspects present’. Yet, with his newfound enthusiasm for the material, these tropes still feel fresh.
Once again, Branagh has assembled a team of veteran actors to carry the torch of his mysteries. Led by Michelle Yeoh, Jamie Dornan and Tina Fey, every cast member is up for the fun and frenzy of a night of murderous mayhem. (This is especially true for Fey, who speaks with such energy that she almost sounds like she’s starring in a classic Cary Grant film.)
Nevertheless, there’s little question that the root of the franchise remains Branagh himself. As the famed detective Poirot, Branagh clearly still revels at the opportunity to bring the classic literary hero to screen and he steps into the character with humility. Even if his character wishes to retire, one can see that Branagh still has an affection for the role. While the mystery remains forefront, each entry delves more deeply into the psychology of Poirot, giving us greater insight into his brilliant mind.
In Venice, we find Poirot as he is willing to step away from notoriety, seeking a life where he can finally be left alone. When he is challenged by an old friend to step into the world of the supernatural, the notorious detective is obviously skeptical. To him, all things can be explained and, therefore, faith in the great beyond is left for the simple-minded. However, when things begin to happen that are too difficult for him to explain, his worldview is shaken. Is it possible that faith in the supernatural is more than childish stories? Or is there, in fact, a logical answer for everything? These are the questions that haunt Poirot, after he is forced to re-examine his beliefs about the world and engages the mysteries of the afterlife.
While this franchise doesn’t have the pop and sizzle of Johnson’s Benoit Blanc mysteries, Branagh handles them with such care of that one cannot help but admire what he’s trying to do. There’s a little doubt that this is a character that means a great deal to him, and his desire to bring Christie’s stories to life for new audiences is admirable. This enthusiasm translates in infectious ways onscreen and, hopefully, will lead to more deadly adventures of Poirot in his future.
A Haunting in Venice is available in theatres on Friday, September 15th, 2023.