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At The Movies: Hercule Poirot’s third outing takes a spooky turn in A Haunting In Venice

A Haunting In Venice (PG13)

103 minutes, opens on Thursday2 stars

The story: World War II has just ended. Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh), the world’s foremost detective, has retired and is living quietly in Venice. But close friend and mystery writer Ariadne (Tina Fey) persuades him to attend a party, held in a historic palazzo said to be haunted. A seance is conducted by the medium Mrs Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh). Shortly afterwards, the guests find themselves stalked by a killer. Based on the 1969 Agatha Christie novel Hallowe’en Party.

In the previous two Hercule Poirot films, director and actor Kenneth Branagh had to grapple with the character background problem.

“This is Countess so-and-so, she lost her wealth to a swindler and is travelling with her niece, who is holding on to the last of her jewel collection,” someone might whisper into Poirot’s ear while gesturing towards the women in question.

This is how the first act would pass: with the regurgitation of potted biographies.

As they say, you had to take it or leave it. That is how the cakes are baked in the world of Agatha Christie.

Branagh never found an elegant way of solving the exposition dump problem, but he would at least make it look nice.

Whether on board a cross-Europe steam train (Murder On The Orient Express, 2017) or a paddleboat (Death On The Nile, 2022), the sets dripped with glamour.

In his latest mystery, something new hangs in the air: supernatural horror.

Released in time for the Halloween season is his attempt at giving his detective mystery a ghostly charge. It works, mostly: The city of Venice built on canals is magical by day and malevolent by night.

This he achieves with dramatic lighting that makes the Gothic architecture look to be sculpted from coal.

Dark water is, of course, another uncanny feature that Branagh exploits to good effect. White arms reaching out from the inky waters are never not chilling.

The result is a movie high on atmospherics but low on everything else – sleuthing and character development take a back seat to characters screaming and running away from the unseen forces leaving corpses in their wake.

The answers, when they arrive, come in the form of yet another torrent of exposition.

Worse, a couple of them are plain silly, even by the highly stylised standards of the Hercule Poirot universe.

Some detective mysteries make viewers feel smarter for having watched them. This one made this reviewer feel slightly silly for having paid close attention to the details.

Hot take: A Haunting In Venice’s sleuthing factor fails to live up to the standards set by the atmosphere.

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