If there is one thing that Kenneth Branagh’s Hercule Poirot films have become known for, it’s being bad. Scratch that; there are two things: being bad and starring alleged abusers. The abuse allegations voice, despite her face always looking like she knows exactly what an iPhone is. At one point, while Poirot critiques the seance’s validity, Ariadne cracks that she heard War of the Worlds on the radio, so she definitely has a handle on what’s real and what isn’t. It rings far more like a parodic line Fey would’ve written into a 30 Rock episode than a joke that a character of this era would’ve been keen to make in the midst of potential demonic terror.
Its horror elements are where A Haunting in Venice especially falters, trying and failing to meld scares with the only thing more frightening than the supernatural: human nature. As the body count rises, the film forgets to convey how frightening it is to be walking amongst a human who could snap at any moment. Instead, it supplies another loud bell toll, glass shattering, offscreen scream, or scary face in a mirror. It’s all of cinema’s parlor tricks cobbled into one movie, with little more impact than that of a January horror film, dumped into theaters but packed with enough jump scares to make the price of admission worth it.
But even those feel cheapened, weighed down by the necessity to keep the film at an accessible PG-13 rating. The attempts to imbue this mystery with enough horror to make it worthy of its Halloween season release ultimately diminish the effectiveness of the crime at hand. And without any standout performances or notably compelling changes to its screenplay’s adapted material, A Haunting in Venice sinks far faster than the town it’s set in. As the water rises, Poirot’s mustache just barely keeps him afloat until the puzzle has been solved, and we can all go home.