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The Daily Tar Heel

It's no mystery in Hollywood that audiences can’t help themselves from flocking to the latest whodunit movie, especially if the lead is a no-nonsense, tired detective with an eccentric accent – just look at the success of "Knives Out." 

There is also no question that a successful murder mystery movie lies between the pages of one of Agatha Christie’s 66 detective novels.

Though not the first to bring Christie’s twisted visions to the big screen, Kenneth Branagh is the latest director with big-budget backing who is willing to profit off the all-time best-selling fiction author.

"A Haunting in Venice" is the latest adaptation from Branagh, who also stars as the film's lead, following the success of "Murder on the Orient Express," released in 2017, and the underwhelming sequel, "Death on the Nile," which hit theaters last year.

All three films revolve around detective Hercule Poirot — most noticeable for his cartoonish mustache and thick French accent — though "A Haunting in Venice" clearly stands out as the most complete feat of storytelling. Luckily, it’s not necessary to see the previous films to enjoy this Venetian thriller.

Unlike the two previous installments of detective Poirot’s ventures, Branagh’s latest film incorporates a supernatural element that gives it an eerie feel. However, despite a handful of jump scares, it is best described as a PG-13 thriller, not a horror movie. 

The plot follows Poirot’s latest adventure, which begins when he is coaxed out of his Italian isolation to attend a seance and disprove of a colorful medium, portrayed by the fan-favorite Michelle Yeoh. 

At first skeptical and cynical, Poirot is soon surrounded by mystery and inexplicable deaths amongst the attendees, all against the backdrop of a spooky, dark Venice. 

The cast is a curious ensemble of actors who are not the obvious choice for a thriller, yet most deliver better than expected. Tina Fey gives a rare serious performance, and Jamie Dornan proves that he can act beyond the Fifty Shades trilogy.

Despite a talented cast, the dialogue is unengaging, making it difficult to connect with any characters. Even with the best acting, the script was rather bland, making some of the untimely deaths difficult to mourn. 

The beginning of the film is engaging, and the element of an otherworldly danger keeps the audience glued to the screen. However, by the time my popcorn was empty and the film’s climax loomed, Branagh began to lose the allure established in the first hour. 

The twist is predictable, and the attempt to combine a murder mystery with a ghost story falls flat when the two don’t come together coherently. The film loses its potency near the end, dooming itself to another title on a long list of completely mediocre murder movies. 

While "A Haunting in Venice" will likely fade into late-summer blockbuster oblivion, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see another Poirot movie churned out in record time. The ending left a clear avenue open for another installment in the franchise.

If you want an entertaining – albeit forgettable – movie night, "A Haunting in Venice" is a fun watch that appeals to those wary of horror and easily bored of thrillers. In a few months, it will be available to stream on Disney+, though murder mysteries are certainly most powerful on the big screen.


@dthlifestyle |

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