“Human life is inexplicable, and still without meaning: a fool may decide its fate.” - Friedrich Nietzsche
While not exactly a favorite for critics, the Agatha Christie inspired mystery thrillers carry on with the third installment, A Haunting in Venice. Kenneth Branagh has starred in and directed all three films. One of the greatest strengths of these stories are the new characters introduced in each new adventure. I can imagine this would be a plus for the studios as well having the ability to create a franchise without any of the hassle contract negotiations for any repeat characters and the actors playing them. With the exception of Branagh’s lead character, Hercule Poirot and Tom Bateman as Bouc, there have been no recurring characters. All the benefits of a franchise with none of the red tape because some big name actor wants more money to keep playing a character in the sequels. It’s why if I had to guess this won’t be the last we see of Poirot and his stupendous stache.
Murder on the Orient Express saw Poirot reluctantly solving a murder due to his transportation being stranded in a place as desolate as the people he had to investigate. In Death on the Nile he had to put aside his hidden reasons for floating along the Nile River to solve the tragic death of an heiress and her tenuous at best relationship with her new husband and his estranged former lover as she clings to them on their honeymoon through Egypt. Each mystery saw Poirot as the grudging detective who so desperately needs a sabbatical from the inevitable evil he encounters in his investigations. Of course he’s rarely allowed such a luxury as the famed Hercule Poirot, the world’s greatest detective. Express and Nile both forced Poirot to wrestle with the darker aspects of the human mind, eventually finding the ultimate motivation to finally uncover the secrets of such ghastly occurrences.
A Haunting in Venice sees the detective face quite possibly the most psychologically testing investigation of his entire career. Contained within the walls of a deteriorating mansion in the mystical Venice, Italy, he must come to one of two possible outcomes: he will discover someone trying to pull the wool over his eyes as he suspects is likely the case or the simpler but somehow more insane possibility that life beyond death is very real and the lost souls of this unkempt manor are trying to reach out from the other side. Not only does Poirot not believe, he is adamant that as clearly as he can exclaim so, life beyond death, the paranormal itself is quite simply not real. This case may just bring into question everything he thought he knew about the world.
The first two stories relied heavily on the setting. Express being a train and Nile a boat. The setting of Venice is important as it creates discomfort in the form of vast halls with dark shadows riddled throughout. It has creaking doors and empty rooms, too many to count. Despite so many souls cramped into this once lavish estate they somehow find themselves in profound isolation, especially when it comes to Poirot’s questioning. They want to discover the culprit behind such violence but they almost seem more interested in the thrill of potentially talking to spirits of the once living, now in the cold embrace of untimely death.
As much as the setting still plays a role in the overall story this particular mystery long finds itself within the mind of Poirot himself. We sit inside his mind as he fights the notion that anything he encounters in the city of Venice is more than the action of someone trying to deceive him. He must find the truth in all its physical remnants, no spirits need apply. But as with every investigation he takes on, the end is rarely easily reached. It is usually convoluted and unexpected even when things appear to be taking shape and a complete picture is seemingly coming into view.
This is Poirot’s most personal case yet and while something feels missing that the previous entries possessed, A Haunting in Venice still manages to be another entertaining stage for the detective to flex his inquisitive muscles and do what he does best. Perhaps so much of the previous movies provided entertainment in the form of grand visuals even when confined to a train or boat. Much of A Haunting lies in the dark. But this lack of light often reflects the intentions of the nefarious individuals residing with the walls of such a grand residence. So while it may be lacking in the grandiose approach that the previous two provide, Branagh as director and writer chooses to focus more on the emotions of its characters, particularly Hercule Poirot. If I can praise it for anything it’s that if plans exist for further Agatha Christie inspired cases I am definitely still on board the express train.
Rated PG-13 For: some strong violence, disturbing images and thematic elements
Runtime: 103 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Crime, Drama, Horror
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Yeoh, Jamie Dornan, Tina Fey
Directed By: Kenneth Branagh
Out of 10
Story: 7.5/ Acting: 8.5/ Directing: 8/ Visuals: 7
Buy to Own: Yes