I must admit that when I first saw the trailer for this movie, I pretty well rolled my eyes at it as yet another haunting movie that would be the same as most others. I tend to view them as a typical novelty haunted house in that you go into it, and you're along for a thrill ride using things like jump scares to fulfill your adrenaline needs. It's typically a fun time instead of a traumatizing one, though, with hints of mystery and intrigue accompanying the ride. I tend to enjoy them in their own ways and prefer them to torture porn.
However, as I watched the trailer, Detective Hercule Poirot popped up, and I was immediately sold. The idea of giving us a detective horror (and I use the term very loosely) film seemed right up my alley. Many don't realize it, but one old Sherlock film I watched and thoroughly enjoyed was 'The Hound of the Baskervilles'. That would be the 1939 version of the story featuring Basil Rathbone as Holmes. It made for one of those great atmospheric classics. And since I enjoyed the last two Poirot films as their own fun "thrill rides", I found something about bringing back this horror detective story idea super intriguing.
This chapter opens up in post-war Venice, Italy, which they made look incredibly inviting, as though it had this rustic quality, like some sort of fancy, beautiful antique. The sort of thing that looks a little homely on the outside, even, dare I say, haunted? There dwells a retired Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) and his bodyguard, ex-police officer Vitale Portfoglio (Riccardo Scamarcio). On Halloween, Poirot is approached by novelist Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey) and asked to attend a séance with her to expose a medium named Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh) as a fraud. Poirot reluctantly agrees to join her to make short work of this.
Opera singer Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly) meets with them at her Palazzo, and it's explained that she has hired Mrs. Reynolds as a means to communicate with her deceased daughter, Alicia (Rowan Robinson), who apparently committed suicide after a romance went south. Also in the séance's attendance are Rowena's housekeeper, Olga Seminoff (Camille Cottin), Drake's family physician, Leslie Ferrier (Jamie Dornan) and his son, Leopold (Jude Hill), and Reynolds' assistants, Desdemona Holland (Emma Laird) and an American guy named Maxime Gerard (Kyle Allen) who happens to be Alicia's Father, but not in the best of places with Rowena.
Poirot is ready to leave after the séance, in which admittedly bizarre and spooky stuff happens. But when one of the group is brutally murdered, the séance turns into a crime scene, and Poirot finds himself on the case once again. However, Poirot has to deal with the ins and outs of reality itself this time and may even have to call his own skepticism into question regarding whether there is a ghostly realm beyond. And I'm just going to go ahead and say it: this is, perhaps obviously for those who know my tastes, probably my favourite of the bunch so far (I don't know how many of these Branagh plans to do).
While 'Murder on the Orient Express' and 'Death on the Nile' were entertaining in their own rights, there was no sense of "perfection" from either of them. That may not be the right word, but I'm talking about when something seemingly lines up perfectly for the viewer, as long as we count "perfection" as relative. This provided yours truly with a pretty wonderful balance to what I like to call "toe-dip horror", which is usually the concept of horror translated into a PG-rated or PG-13-rated movie. There's actually a decent jump scare or two here, but it's still a mystery first. Add a sprinkle of good humour and some solid acting and it's a good time, especially for the Spooky Season.
I think I can safely recommend this to anyone looking for a Halloween watch this year that's more or less family-friendly. It's a murder mystery, a ghost story, a haunted house movie, and the rustic setting of Venice makes for some really creepy but perfectly natural set pieces. Story-wise, it's also fun to wonder along the way from Poirot's point of view - that of a complete and total skeptic. I also have my skeptical side, but let's be honest here - where's the fun in that? It's just kind of fun seeing a skeptic's point of view get tarnished with something they can't explain. But one thing I can explain is that if you enjoyed the last couple of these, you're in for a real treat with this one!