You don’t have to wait long for the first death in A Haunting In Venice: within the first minute, a hungry seagull has swooped on an unsuspecting pigeon, leaving a bloody mark in St. Mark’s Square. More murders ensue in Kenneth Branagh’s latest Poirot foray, for all the moustachioed detective’s attempts to live a quiet life unbothered in post-WWII Italy.
Yet there are also tingles, and laughs, in a trilogy-finishing successor to Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile that nimbly grafts an eerie Halloween spook-fest onto a classic old-school whodunnit.
The chuckles emanate from Tina Fey’s Ariadne Oliver, a writer of mysteries (and walking Agatha Christie in-joke) whose sharp suits and snappy patter recall the sassy Girl Fridays of screwball farce’s golden age.
The chills, meanwhile, arrive after she’s coaxed Hercule (Branagh) out of retirement to attend a séance conducted by medium Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh). It’s a communion with the dead – namely Alicia Drake, recently deceased daughter of opera singer Rowena (Kelly Reilly) – that soon leads to one or more of the attendees swelling their number.
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.
A Haunting in Venice is in US and UK cinemas on September 15.