(director: Kenneth Branagh; screenwriters: Michael Green, based upon the 1969 novel “Hallowe’en Party” by Agatha Cristie; cinematographer: Haris Zambariouko; editor: Lucy Donaldson; music: Hildur Guonadohir; cast: Kenneth Branagh (Hercule Poirot), Tina Fey (Ariadne Oliver), Jamie Dornan (Dr. Lesley Fernier), Michelle Yeoh (Mrs. Reynolds), Kyle Allen (Maxime Gerard), Camille  Cottin (Olga Sminoff), Kelly Reilly (Rowena Drake), Riccardo Scamarrio (Vitale Portfoglio), Rowan Robinson (Alicia Drake), Emma Laird (Desdemona Holland), Ali Khan (Nicholas Holland), Jude Hill (Leopold Ferner); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Simon Kinberg, Mark Gordon, Ridley Scott, Judy Hofflund; 20th Century; 2023-USA/UK/Italy-in English)

“It’s an enjoyable watch.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This stylish thriller is the latest Kenneth Branagh (“Shackelton”/”Hamlet “) adaptation of the Hercule Poirot murder mystery stories (his third). It’s based upon the 1969 novel “Hallowe’en Party” by Agatha Cristie (whereby he uses her premise and little else), and is written by Michael Green (who also scripted his other two films). Branagh not only directs but stars.

Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is wondering about the possibility of ghosts, in this adaptation that touches on the supernatural. Poirot has retired to a life of comfort and lives in postwar 1947 Venice. Wanting no part of public life, he hires a 24-hour bodyguard (Riccardo Scamarrio) to protect him from fans and those potential clients seeking his service.

The cunning American mystery writer, Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey), someone he worked with before, invites Poirot to attend a Halloween-night séance hosted by a former opera singer, Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly). She has taken up residence in a reportedly haunted palazzo after the death of her daughter Alicia (Rowan Robinson). Rowena hopes to reach her daughter in the spiritual world through the celebrated medium Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh). The mansion is spooked by the ghosts of many children who died from the plague. The others attending the seance include: the family doctor (Jamie Dornan) still suffering from PTSD from wartime duty as a surgeon, his son who seems taken with the spirit world (Jude Hill), Joyce’s assistants who are keen to profit off their boss’s medium skills (Emma Laird and Ali Khan), the Catholic housekeeper (Camille Cottin), and Rowena’s daughter’s ex-fiancé (Kyle Allen) who left her with a broken heart before her death.

Though hesitant, Poirot attends, as he’s asked as a favor by Oliver to see if there’s a con he can spot.

When a guest is murdered at the seance, Poirot comes out of retirement to find the cold-blooded killer. A spooky atmosphere persists during the night, as there’s a bad rain storm with high winds.

The ensemble cast give terrific performances. The production values and set designs get high marks, and the costumes fit the location scenes to a tee. The eerie score by Hildur Guðnadóttir’ is chilling. The photography by Haris Zambariouko is a visual treat.

It’s an enjoyable watch. The ghost story, however involving, still remains a conventional Poirot detective story.

a haunting in venice review