The appeal and limitation of the Poirot films lie in their predictability. The time period and tone are firmly established, requiring a fresh A-list cast of suspects and a new scenic location for each installment, much like the Bond and Fast & Furious franchises. Kenneth Branagh deserves credit for injecting a surprisingly different feel into the latest installment while hitting all the familiar beats.
Branagh and writer Michael Green introduce a notable change by setting the story in 1947, deviating from Agatha Christie’s traditional interwar backdrop. Poirot (played by Branagh) has retired from detective work, frustrating numerous potential clients who gather outside his door each night, deterred by his bodyguard Portfoglio (played by Riccardo Scamarcio). However, the arrival of his friend Ariadne Oliver (portrayed by Tina Fey), a crime writer, lures him back into action. She seeks his help in debunking the work of psychic Mrs. Reynolds (played by Michelle Yeoh), who plans a Halloween séance in the decaying palazzo of grieving opera diva Rowena Drake (played by Kelly Reilly).
This installment exudes a creepier atmosphere, with a plot that not only involves murders but potentially paranormal occurrences, deviating from the typical whodunit formula. Poirot grapples with distinguishing between ghosts and reality, and to enhance the eerie vibe, Branagh employs his penchant for Dutch angles, tilting the camera to explore the darkest corners of the stormy palazzo. Cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos masterfully maintains the lighting at just the right level of gloominess.
The supporting cast around Branagh’s reliable portrayal of Poirot is a mixed bag. Tina Fey injects screwball energy into her role as Oliver, while Kelly Reilly portrays a character who appears both delicate and desperate. Unfortunately, Michelle Yeoh’s character is somewhat underutilized, relegated to posing, making vaguely sinister statements, and enduring insults from both Poirot and Oliver. The reunion of Jamie Dornan and Jude Hill from “Belfast” gives the latter more substantial screen time, with Dornan effectively portraying a veteran with PTSD.
Ultimately, the film culminates in a gathering of survivors for a grand revelation and an impossibly convoluted explanation, staying true to the essence of classic Poirot mysteries. Some elements remain essential, and while we don’t want this beloved series to stray too far from its roots, this bold approach of reimagining obscure Christie novels holds significant promise.