After two leisurely trips ruined by the obligation to solve murders, Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) has, frankly, had it. The third of Branagh’s Agatha Christie adaptations, after Murder On The Orient Express and Death On The Nile, finds Poirot trying to keep himself to himself in Venice. He ignores people begging for his services – and even hires a bodyguard (Riccardo Scamarcio) to punch any who get too close – yet try as he might to evade it, death always finds its way to Hercule.
It finds him thanks to Ariadne Oliver (Tiny Fey), a crime novelist friend who invites Poirot to a party at the home of ex-opera singer Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly), at which a seance will be conducted by Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh), a renowned psychic/fraud. Oliver wants Poirot to help decipher which side of the slash Reynolds falls on. The seance goes wildly awry, someone is killed and Poirot is not entirely sure there aren’t some genuinely otherworldly forces at work.
Like the previous films, it’s all very handsome, with Branagh making much of the innate spookiness of Venice, chucking in lots of flickering candles and roiling storm clouds just to ensure the pudding isn’t under-egged. His cast, which includes Call My Agent’s Camille Cottin, Jamie Dornan and Belfast’s Jude Hill, while less starry than usual, all leap in with wide-eyed, lightly camp performances that fit the mood. Fey in particular enjoys hamming it up as a 1940s broad so arch and sassy you half expect her to start dealing cards or call someone ‘no-good bum’.
If it’d gone the full leering Hammer Horror, this could have been a scream
The Venice plot is suitably, but sadly, a bit soggy. Loosely adapted from Christie’s 1969 novel ‘Hallowe’en Party’, it seeds its clues a little too clearly, so the big reveal doesn’t come as much of a shock. And it has the same issue as the previous films: a parade of interrogations starts to get a bit repetitive after half a dozen. The horror-lite element gives it a boost, with Branagh’s direction conjuring up a few jumps, but this gently entertaining mystery could have used far more scares. If he’d gone the full leering Hammer Horror, rather than tastefully occult, this could have been a scream.
In cinemas worldwide Sep 15.