November 3, 2023 at 1:01 p.m.
While reading the Englewood Review you may have been wondering, “Where is Amanda Glam? I miss her desperately and have no idea what to see at the movies or watch on TV without her sage advice.” Or you may not have noticed my absence at all. That’s OK, I forgive you.
This month your Amanda has left Florida after more than 25 years for an undisclosed location that begins with New and ends with Mexico. Spoiler alert: moving is time consuming and stressful and leaves you with little time for movies and television.
I have finally had the opportunity to visit one of my two local movie theaters, and since it is the Halloween season, I decided on A Haunting in Venice (PG-13). This is the third Agatha Christie adaptation from director Kenneth Branagh, who also stars as Christie’s iconic mustachioed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.
Set in 1947 Venice, Haunting is based on Christie’s novel Hallowe’en Party and finds Poirot retired from sleuthing and living as a happy (well as much as Poirot can be happy) recluse. A friend, American mystery writer Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey) convinces Poirot to attend a Halloween party and seance at a palazzo owned by retired opera singer Rowena Drake, played by Yellowstone’s Kelly Reilly. I mean really, how do you say no to that?
The palazzo is as creepy and imposing as a palazzo can get, and it’s supposedly haunted by the ghosts of orphans who were left to die there during the plague. Oh, and there’s a massive and very atmospheric thunderstorm happening. This is no jaunty Murder on the Orient Express.
After a Halloween party for the current batch of orphans, a very skeptical Poirot and company are invited to a seance led by the famous medium Mrs. Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh). She has been hired by Rowena to call forth the spirit of her daughter Alicia who died under, you guessed it, unusual circumstances.
When another murder and an attempt on Poirot’s life occurs, everyone gathered at the palazzo is a suspect. They include housekeeper Olga Seminoff (is Christie great at names or what?) Alicia’s former fiancé Maxime Gerard, and an emotionally fragile surgeon and his exceptionally precocious son, reuniting Jamie Dornan and Jude Hill, who starred in Branagh’s Oscar-winning film Belfast.
Poirot’s investigation is complicated by those nasty spirits inhabiting the palazzo. A devout non-believer, the detective actually witnesses some very unnatural and disturbing occurrences that even he can’t explain.
In a cast where everyone delivers exactly what they need to, standouts are unsurprisingly, Oscar-winner Yeoh and Reilly, who as the grieving mother, gets the most to work with. Fey is also impressive taking a leap from her standard comedic roles.
A Haunting in Venice feels more like Orson Welles’ The Third Man or at times, Nicolas Roeg’s relentlessly atmospheric Venice-set horror film Don’t Look Now, than it does Branagh’s two previous Poirot outings. It’s darker, smarter, scarier and much less formulaic. It also clocks in at a tidy 107 minutes. I wasn’t even close to figuring out whodunit or howtheydunit. A Haunting in Venice is an absorbing and expertly-crafted mystery, delivering thrills and chills without the blood and gore of traditional modern Halloween fare.
Watching A Haunting in Venice did inspire me to check out Brangh’s Death on the Nile, (released in 2022 after a long delay), a much more traditional Poirot vehicle set mostly on a spectacular riverboat sailing on the Nile. Poirot has joined revelers celebrating the marriage of fabulously wealthy and gorgeous Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot) and fabulously tanned Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer, pre-scandal). The one uninvited guest is Jacqueline, Simon’s former fiancé and Linnet’s former best friend. Ouch.
My problem with Death on the Nile (PG-13) is that there are so many characters/suspects that actors like Annette Bening and the charming Tom Bateman have very little to do. Also, unlike Haunting, I figured out who the killer was pretty early on, making the reveal a bit underwhelming. Indeed, the most compelling scene in the film might be the opening, a World War I battle scene of a young Poirot that offers insight into the detective’s character and beliefs. Death on the Nile isn’t great but it is entertaining and a diverting travelog.
A Haunting in Venice: 4 out of 5 Stars
Death on the Nile: 2 1/2 out of 5 Stars