A Haunting in Venice REVIEW – A Modest Murder Mystery

A Haunting in Venice
A Haunting in Venice

Reprising his role as Belgian detective Hercule Poirot for a third time, Kenneth Branagh, complete with impeccably groomed moustache, is back for another Agatha Christie whodunit. Adapted by Michael Green from Christie’s 1969 novel, Hallowe’en Party, A Haunting in Venice takes place ten years after the events of Branagh’s previous film, Death on the Nile.

Now retired from detective work, Poirot fills his days eating pastries and generally avoiding other people, especially those desperate for him to take their cases. This is until an author and old friend of his, Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey), pays him an unexpected visit. She invites him to a séance led by psychic Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh), in the hope that he will be able to discredit her methods, something that Oliver has failed to do herself. Poirot agrees, and the pair attend the séance held at a Halloween party hosted by Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly), a wealthy woman whose daughter committed suicide a year previously. But when another guest ends up dead, Poirot must come out of retirement to solve the case.

With such a spooky premise, it’s unsurprising that A Haunting in Venice opts for a much darker tone than its two, comparatively light-hearted predecessors. Initially, that works in its favour, too. Haris Zambarloukous’ cinematography creates an unnerving sense of foreboding, as he finds an impressive balance between the dimly-lit, shadowy Venetian setting and the piercing colours that decorate it. Green’s screenplay enhances these atmospheric visuals further, providing chilling context by way of some sinister ghost stories about the supposedly haunted house the guests are gathered in. And of course the plot’s central focus on the séance really completes the mood, forcing both the characters and audience to question if there really are some supernatural forces at work here.

However, while A Haunting in Venice undoubtedly succeeds in establishing an unsettling ambiance, it struggles in knowing how to really take advantage of it. Instead, it falls back on a collection of cheap jump scares that have little to no effect. In failing to really heighten the suspense, the film’s new and distinctive tone feels like somewhat of a missed opportunity to create something truly eerie-sistible. Thankfully, Green’s screenplay helps the supernatural element retain a degree of intrigue by playfully toying with the idea of foul play from the other side.

Meanwhile, and firmly in the land of the living, the film boasts a sizable ensemble cast, full of culprits for Poirot to carefully consider. Branagh reunites with Belfast actors Jamie Dornan and Jude Hill, who coincidentally play father and son once more. While Michelle Yeoh, Camille Cottin, Kelly Reilly and Tina Fey occupy the other main roles. They all do solid work, each waiting patiently for their moment in the spotlight. Yet despite the wealth of performers, it’s actually Branagh who stands out most for the first time in three films. His amusing characterisation, quaint dialogue and spiffy costume design are the closest A Haunting in Venice gets to camp, something that the film should have been brave enough to embrace more fully.

So while there aren’t any performances just quite as memorable – for better, or worse – as, say, the likes of Gal Gadot in Death on the Nile here, the cast all play their parts serviceably, competently conveying the narrative’s main murder mystery. A mystery that’s constructed well and sparks enough interest to become compelling. It unfolds at a steady pace and has enough revelations throughout to maintain its momentum, before ultimately reaching its satisfying conclusion.

However, a greater focus on fun, rather than fear, might have made way for a slightly more whimsical whodunnit. Nonetheless, and not that the bar was particularly high, but A Haunting in Venice is arguably Branagh’s most accomplished Poirot film yet.

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A Haunting in Venice
A Haunting in Venice is short on any real spooks, but remains a satisfying and stylish murder mystery.