A Haunting in Venice (2023) Review

Hercule Poirot is back, and unlike the first two movies, Murder on the Orient Express (2017) and Death on the Nile (2022), Kenneth Branagh’s third entry in A Haunting in Venice marked a refreshing change of pace for the usual classic murder mystery.

While the latter remains the core of the story that defined Agatha Christie’s famous Belgian detective novel series in the first place, what intrigues me the most is the added supernatural thriller and horror elements. Loosely based on Christie’s 1969 novel Hallowe’en Party, Poirot (Branagh, looking less distracting with his moustache this time around) is now retired in Venice. People may queue at the front door, hoping Poirot would help them with their cases. But Poirot’s dedicated bodyguard, Vitale (Riccardo Scamarcio) ensures he’ll not be disturbed at all costs.

Instead, we see Poirot prefers to spend his time taking care of his plants and enjoying freshly baked pastries on the rooftop terrace of his home. When his longtime friend and novelist Ariadne (Tina Fey) shows up one day, she convinces him to join her in a Halloween party followed by a seance. Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly), who organises the party for the costumed children in her old palazzo, used to be an opera singer. But she has since stopped performing after her teenage daughter, Alicia (Rowan Robinson) committed suicide.

Poirot, who reluctantly agrees to come along with Ariadne, doesn’t believe in all things paranormal and ghosts. He remains sceptical upon attending the seance led by a well-known medium, Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh). Rowena hires her so she can communicate with her late daughter.

Then something happens. A murder takes place in the palazzo and as usual, Poirot rounds up all the suspects for questioning. This includes everyone from Ariadne, Rowena and even Vitale as well as others such as Reynolds’ assistants, Desdemona (Emma Laird) and Nicholas (Ali Khan), housekeeper Olga (Camille Cottin) and family doctor Leslie Ferrier (Jamie Dornan).

With the front gate locked to prevent anyone from trying to escape, Poirot uses his deductive skills to uncover the truth behind the alleged haunting within the palazzo.

Michelle Yeoh in "A Haunting in Venice (2023)

A Haunting in Venice is by far the shortest movie so far in Kenneth Branagh’s version of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot franchise. The movie benefits from economical storytelling that doesn’t waste much time setting up the plot. It also improves upon the drawn-out narrative that plagued Death on the Nile.

But the most significant boost of all is Branagh doesn’t fall prey to the same old digital fakery. The flimsy-looking CGI background shots that made the previous two movies suffered from inconsistent visuals. Not so for A Haunting in Venice, where Branagh does a good job shooting his movie on location in Venice without making it look like it was blatantly filmed on a green screen.

The movie also sets the bulk of its story within the confines of a palazzo, which was reportedly shot in Pinewood Studios. Fortunately, the good news is that the interior of the Venetian palazzo evokes the distinctive look and feel of an old-fashioned haunted-house horror movie with the help of John Paul Kelly’s production design. Haris Zambarloukos, who previously lensed the last two movies, deserves a mention for his atmospheric cinematography.

Branagh even ratcheted up its visual tension by incorporating different types of camerawork, covering close-ups to Dutch angles and at one point, a fisheye lens. It certainly helps to make the movie less stagey, given its predominantly single location set in the palazzo.

The combination of whodunit and supernatural-horror elements is potentially interesting. Frankly, the result is rather decent but unspectacular, with Branagh relying too much on typical jump scares. They are relatively tame but at least he does retains a consistently spooky and macabre tone throughout the movie.

As for the cast, the movie may lack the star-studded advantages seen in Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile. And yet, we have Branagh here delivering an entertaining performance as Hercule Poirot and so does Tina Fey’s lively supporting turn as Ariadne. Michelle Yeoh made good use of her otherwise limited screen time as the famous medium, Joyce Reynolds.