In his third outing as mustachioed detective Hercule Poirot, Kenneth Branagh has delivered his best adaptation yet. Writer Michael Green has fashioned a spooky, sneaky and sometimes sad thriller based on Agatha Christie's lesser-known Hallowe'en Party.
Living in self-imposed exile in Venice, Poirot is summoned to a Halloween party and séance by mystery writer Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey). She's hoping her Belgian friend will use his powers of deduction to suss out whether a medium (Michelle Yeoh) is the real deal. But his skills will really be put to the test when one of the guests ends up murdered, and then another. While past outings have been confined to a train and a boat, this massive palazzo actually makes for the most claustrophobic setting of all. The production design from period expert John Paul Kelly is simply extraordinary, with hidden passageways, crumbling ceilings and ominous rooms.
But the film's secret ingredient is its sound design. I saw the film in IMAX, and while the large-format projection was nice, its extra speakers really made the difference. The ghostly screams, laughs and whispers that haunt Poirot and other guests weave in and out of different channels, creating a truly unsettling experience. Add in some creepy children (who may or may not be ghosts) and you've got a special early Halloween treat.
As usual, an all-star cast has formed around Branagh. His Belfast stars Jamie Dornan and Jude Hill once again play father and son, while Camille Cottin (House of Gucci) and Kelly Reilly (Yellowstone) play women still grief-stricken over the death of the latter's daughter. Riccardo Scamarcio (John Wick: Chapter 2) also stars as an ex-cop with hidden connections to multiple guests.
While these stories often veer into the ridiculous, everyone comes together to at least keep the emotions and motivations grounded. There may be some supernatural twists, but the crimes committed are all too human.
I'll keep watching these Poirot movies as long as they keep making them, especially if they're as taut and effective as A Haunting in Venice.