Halloween is just around the corner and, while Hercule Poirot probably isn’t the first name you think of when spooky season hits, Kenneth Branagh is throwing his hat into the supernatural ring with his third turn as the uber-observant detective. A Haunting in Venice is set to premiere on Friday, September 15, and the book-to-screen adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Hallowe’en Party boasts a solid cast for the latest murder mystery, with Michelle Yeoh, Tina Fey and Kelly Reilly amongst the key players to be scrutinized during Poirot’s investigation.
First reactions to the Hercule Poirot movie were promising, with many who attended an early screening calling it the best yet of the three adaptations that Kenneth Branagh has directed and starred in. Our own Mike Reyes praises the effort in CinemaBlend’s review of A Haunting in Venice, calling Branagh’s turn at horror “both riveting and disturbing.” It can also be enjoyed without having seen Murder on the Orient Express or Death on the Nile, Reyes notes, rating it 4 out of 5 stars and writing:
Humor and heartbreak are still happily offered throughout Michael Green’s screenplay, and the performances Kenneth Branagh brings out of his cast is on par with his stellar efforts with previous ensembles. We still have moments where Hercule Poirot in particular gets to be both glib and haunted, with melancholy again tying everything together. But be warned: you might find it a little hard to know when to laugh or scream, as those moods tend to go hand in hand with the game at play.
Neil Smith of GamesRadar also rates A Haunting in Venice 4 stars out of 5, writing that there are both tingles and laughs, as Kenneth Branagh weaves an old-school whodunnit out of an eerie Halloween spook-fest. In Smith’s words:
With lightning in the skies above, stormy waves crashing against a palazzo’s locked gates and menacing thumps coming from below, there’s atmosphere to burn in a film that also throws in the odd ghostly apparition. And while the eventual solution to the central puzzle is a somewhat bemusing one, there is plenty to savour en route from the opulent production design, eclectic ensemble cast, and Sir Ken’s reassuringly punctilious Belgian waffler.
Siddhant Adlakha of IGN says the movie flips back and forth between humor and horror, with its doom and gloom complemented by “some of the most wackadoo horror filmmaking from any major contemporary director.” The critic rates A Haunting in Venice a “Great” 8/10, writing:
An off-kilter horror-comedy told with breakneck momentum, A Haunting in Venice is a wild stylistic departure from Kenneth Branagh’s previous Poirot mysteries. However, it continues the series’ strange evolution as a tribute to the iconic Belgian sleuth; Branagh cares more about Poirot than any living person, and it shows.
Meagan Navarro of Bloody Disgusting calls Kenneth Branagh’s latest adaptation a “stylish Halloween whodunnit,” rating the movie 3 out of 5 skulls. Navarro says this may be the mustachioed detective’s least-engaging mystery yet, but that critique is offset by the spooky, claustrophobic atmosphere. The critic continues:
At least in Branagh’s interpretation of Christie’s famous character, Hercule Poirot is a reserved fellow, and that extends to his films, too. A Haunting in Venice doesn’t break from convention, nor does it plunge fully into horror. It fits neatly in line with the previous installments, but Branagh gives it an edge with the haunting style that highlights the protagonist’s internal struggle with identity. It’s the characters and the stunning gothic production that make this a winsome welcome to the Halloween season for horror and non-horror fans alike.
Not all of the critics share such positive opinions, however. Christian Zilko of IndieWire grades the movie a B-, saying that it’s getting harder to ignore what Rian Johnson is doing to the genre with his Knives Out movies — particularly because Kenneth Branagh’s co-stars don’t seem to be having much fun. Zilko continues:
On paper, A Haunting in Venice has all the components of a great whodunnit. A star-studded cast solving a Gothic mystery in one of Europe’s most beautiful cities should be enough to entice any Christie devotee. But no amount of star power can compensate for the fact that no one seems to be having any fun. Yeoh makes a commendable effort to craft a three-dimensional femme fatale, but the rest of the cast seems content to put on a melodrama with all the excitement of a jigsaw puzzle called ‘The Wheat Field.’
Overall, the critics seem to say that the actor/director has done it again, delivering a fun murder mystery from Agatha Christie’s collection, albeit with an appropriate twist for the Halloween season. A Haunting in Venice has accrued an 88% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes from 26 critics so far, and those who want to check out Hercule Poirot’s latest case can do so starting Friday, September 15. Be sure to also check out our schedule of 2023 new movie releases to see what else is headed to the theater soon.