Although Kenneth Branagh’s previous Agatha Christie films (Death on the Nile, Murder on the Orient Express) have shared the same name as the book they’re based on, A Haunting in Venice does not have the same title as Christie’s Hallowe'en Party. This is likely because the plot has changed so much that it's almost unrecognizable from the source material.
The cast is predominantly exceptional -- Jamie Dornan plays Dr. Leslie Ferrier, who’s suffering from PTSD after what he witnessed during WWII, and Jude Hill plays Ferrier’s precocious and solemn son Leopold. Hill is the child actor who played Dornan’s son in Belfast (also directed by Branagh). He's already proving at a young age that he possesses enormous talent – the character he plays is so different from the one he played in Belfast that he’s absolutely unrecognizable. Dornan and Hill, both Irish actors, deliver perfect English accents. Kyle Allen as American bachelor Maxime Gerard also turns in a memorable performance.
Each shot in the movie is artistically set up and filmed – if made into stills, they would create a coffee table book of incredible photos that each tell a story – a dark, spooky one.
However, there are scenes that ask the audience to suspend their belief – in one, Hercule Poirot (again played by Branagh) has his back to the only other person in the room, with whom he’s having a conversation. He doesn’t trust the woman, who is a psychic, yet when she places her mask on his head from behind and then puts her cloak around his shoulders, he doesn’t move a muscle. It’s difficult to believe he would not react. Poirot then moves to a bucket filled with water that was used for apple bobbing and sinks his head into it, knowing that a murderer may be about. As it turns out, the murderer is after the psychic and mistakes Poirot for his intended victim. If you’ve seen Poirot played to perfection by David Suchet in the British TV series that ran for 13 seasons, you know that Poirot would never be so careless.
Also, he has an “old friend,” author Ariadne Oliver, played by Tina Fey with a comedic touch that seems out of place in a spooky tale such as this. She’s also somewhat disrespectful to the great detective – it’s inconceivable that Poirot would have a friend like that.
That said, if you’re not expecting a faithful depiction of Christie’s book, and accept this as an entirely different story, A Haunting in Venice has a plot with more than a few twists, which will have you guessing right until the end. From the crumbling mansion surrounded by water, a stellar cast of strange characters, and a deliciously spooky atmosphere, A Haunting in Venice lives up to its title. ~Alexandra Heilbron
3 out of 5 stars.