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There’s nothing like a séance to put you in the mood for Halloween, but it’s just like sceptic Hercule Poirot to put a damper on your thrills, as he tries to do in “A Haunting in Venice.”

Since we last saw Poirot, played by Kenneth Branagh, he has retired to Venice with a single substantial bodyguard (Riccardo Scamarcio) to shove journalists into a canal should they attempt to interview him.

The bodyguard does let one journalist slip through. It is Poirot’s friend Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey). Ariadne claims to be a sceptic, but she insists that she has met a woman who really does talk to spirits. She drags Poirot to a Halloween party at a haunted palazzo where the ghosts of orphans who were left there to die are said to roam.

Joyce Reynolds, played by Michelle Yeoh, prefers the humble term “medium,” a link between the living and the dead. She nearly convinces us – but not, of course, Poirot, who rashly exposes her tricks. Her last prediction, that he and she will never see each other again, turns out to be true.

The movie is neither a horror movie nor a thriller. It is a whodunit, and that is the fun, as well as the point, of the movie. Poirot, of course, comes out of retirement and shuts down all the exits to interview the suspects – and he suspects everyone – one at a time.

That’s not as simple as it seems, since Poirot himself sees a couple of ghostly figures, making the detective – and the audience – doubt the sound science which tells us there’s no such thing as ghosts.

Agatha Christie was an admirable storyteller, and fans of her books will see differences between the movie and the book “Hallowe’en Party” that it was based on. For one thing, the book is set in England. However, Venice has many more opportunities for cinematic wonders and creepiness.

Kenneth Branagh is an admirable British actor and director, but he’s not the insufferable little Belgian that I want to see in the role. Just who that might be is open to question, but I did enjoy Alfred Molina in “Murder on the Orient Express” (2001). If Branagh decides to do another Agatha Christie film, and I hope he will, he might consider recasting the part.

Lasting an hour and 43 minutes, “Haunting in Venice” is now in theaters.

Gail M. Williams

Muleshoe Journal Correspondent

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