After relocating a murder mystery set in rural England to one of the most scenic cities on the planet, actor-director Kenneth Branagh spends most of his time indoors, in underlit rooms with antique furniture and bad plumbing. A Haunting in Venice, Branagh’s third film based on Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot cases, gussies up one of Christie’s creakiest novels through magnificent art direction, cinematography and sound design. Spectacular aerial views of Venice bookend a film less interested in problem solving than exploring grief.

A Haunting in Venice follows Branagh’s adaptations of Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile. The 103-minute film has been liberally adapted by Michael Green from Christie’s late-career novel Hallowe’en Party. While Green inventively changes most of the character graphs, Branagh exploits Venice’s association with death, ruin and the supernatural to the hilt. Events unfold in 1947, which allows a pall of gloom after the horrors of World War II to hang over a crumbling palazzo where a young woman has recently died.

Poirot has seemingly retired, and has even hired a bodyguard (Riccardo Scamarcio) to swat away prospective clients. Persuaded by his old friend, the mystery writer Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey), to attend a seance, Poirot finds his severe rationality challenged.

The medium Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh) appears to have summoned the spirit of the daughter of the palazzo’s owner, Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilley). The guests include the dead woman’s deeply religious au pair (Camille Cottin), her former fiance Maxime (Kyle Allen), the war-scarred family doctor Leslie (Jamie Dornan) and the doctor’s precocious son Leopold (Jude Hill).

Might this all actually be the work of ghosts?

The cinematography, by Haris Zambarloukos, the background score by Hildur Guonadottir, and John Paul Kelly’s production design prove ample distraction from Poirot’s guesswork-based casework. Given how weak the source material is, and how disinterested Branagh is in the actual death itself, it’s for the best.

A Haunting in Venice (2023).