Film Review: A Haunting In Venice; Humour and light horror abound in Kenneth Branagh’s effective murder mystery

  • Peter Gray
  • September 12, 2023
  • Comments Off on Film Review: A Haunting In Venice; Humour and light horror abound in Kenneth Branagh’s effective murder mystery

After the lush, star-studded class of Murder on the Orient Express (2017) and the campier inclinations of 2022’s Death on the Nile, it makes sense that Kenneth Branagh would again change the temperament of his latest Hercule Poirot mystery.  Adhering to a darker, more supernaturally-infused mentality, A Haunting In Venice is the most unsettling of his Agatha Christie adaptations – even if it’s the simplest when it comes to the detective’s eventual solving of the case at hand.

Adapted from Christie’s “Hallowe’en Party” novel by screenwriter Michael Green (who penned both previous aforementioned works), A Haunting In Venice takes a few licenses by making the most of the gothic beauty of its titular city; Christie’s original work was centred around a country house in England.  A haunted palazzo in Italy is so much more inviting (ironically), and no matter how much Poirot (Branagh, glorious moustache and all) thinks he has retired, there’s always at least one case lurking that’ll bring out his detective instincts.

Here, that instinct is brought about by a visit from Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey, arguably the film’s brightest spot), an authoress whose fictional works inspired by Poirot have seen her career considerably thrive.  Though initially Ariadne’s intentions appear to be relatively harmless – she does want the great Poirot to put his skills to good use, but for something unrelated to murder – it isn’t long before a fatality most foul sours the Venetian villa they have gathered at for a Halloween-night séance.

Ariadne’s hopes for the evening are for Poirot to expose Mrs Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh), a medium, as the charlatan she’s suspected of truly being.  Mrs Reynolds has been asked to attend the event by the grieving Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly), a former opera singer, who’s desperate to make contact with her deceased daughter.  Naturally, being a murder mystery and all, there’s a number of guests on hand – including a tormented doctor (Jamie Dornan), his older-than-his-years son (Jude Hill, probably laying on the knowing youngster shtick a little too thick), Poirot’s own bodyguard (Riccardo Scamarcio), Mrs Reynolds’ assistants (Ali Kahn and Emma Laird), “the help” (Camille Cottin), and the deceased’s former beau (Kyle Allen) – all of whom cast reasonable suspicion when a murder takes place.

Unlike Orient Express where it was common knowledge that Johnny Depp was the star victim, A Haunting In Venice, like Death on the Nile, may surprise with who it opts to take out quite early in the proceedings.  The imagery of the murder itself is effectively frightening, and it sets in motion a slick line of questioning for Poirot, whilst also leaning into the supernatural element that brings into question the validity of both Poirot’s state of mind and if Mrs Reynolds truly can speak to the dead; the early scenes of the séance are the closest the film gets to embracing its horror proclivities, proving that a genre piece for Branagh would go down quite smooth should he feel the need to explore further.

Despite all its positives – including the exciting camera work from Paris Zambarloukos (who worked on Branagh’s Belfast) and the appreciated running time of 103 minutes – A Haunting In Venice is perhaps the least exciting in terms of how it wraps its mystery up.  One of the greatest elements to Branagh’s previous films is that the clues are hidden in plain sight, with the narrative unfolding in a manner that makes re-watches practically essential.  For A Haunting In Venice, it feels as if some of Poirot’s deductions are brought about through an airy plucking.  It doesn’t diminish the film’s enjoyment factor, but the reveal itself – as much as it makes sense – never quite hits as hard as it predecessors; that being said, I never had it figured out, so bravo Poirot!

Nonetheless, A Haunting In Venice is still an enjoyable escape for the older film crowds who enjoy smart, well-tailored cinema.  Branagh has truly found a safety net with these mysteries, and if he wants to continue swanning about lush European locations with the grandest of ensemble casts, who are we to deny him such a luxury if we are the ones who ultimately benefit?  Onwards to the next.


A Haunting In Venice is screening in Australian theatres from September 14th, 2023.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.