A Haunting in Venice – Third Time’s a Charm

Mark Pacis

A Haunting in Venice

A Haunting in Venice is a film that’s equal parts murder mystery, old-fashioned ghost story, and supernatural thriller. It’s a mixture that makes Kenneth Branagh’s Agatha Christie adaptation the best yet. Once again, this Poirot adaptation features a stellar (albeit smaller) international cast and remarkable production design. Overall, A Haunting in Venice succeeds as an engaging and visually enticing gothic murder mystery. 

The film follows the retired detective, Hercule Poirot, whose latest case takes him to his absolute limits. Set on Hallows’ Eve, Hercule Poirot (Branagh) resides in Venice, enjoying a simple, quiet life. However, his retirement is cut short by the arrival of his friend Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey). This acclaimed mystery novelist invites him to a seance. She hopes to have him deduce if the medium running it, Joyce (Michelle Yeoh), is a scam artist. Intrigued, Poirot accepts her offer, learning that a woman named Alicia died a year ago under mysterious circumstances in the Palazzo where the event is taking place. Poirot quickly exposes Joyce’s tricks to create the belief that she is communicating with the dead. Still, one of the guests dies, prompting the detective to investigate who the killer is once again.

Branagh has always used a light touch in adapting Agatha Christie’s books into films. He respects the source material, relying on the book’s theatrically larger-than-life characters and juicy twists. A Haunting In Venice continues the series’ pursuit of murder-mystery storytelling that never takes itself too seriously while dishing out the essential thrills and suspense. 

A Haunting in Venice succeeds as an engaging and visually enticing gothic murder mystery. 

Thankfully, Branagh does away with the awful CGI of his earlier Poirot tales and mostly goes for practical settings. John Paul Kelly’s production design and Sammy Sheldon’s costumes are excellent and set the gothic tone for the entire film. There are fewer A-listers in the cast this time, as it tries to focus more on the performances than seeing a giant all-star cast underutilized as they fight for screen time with each other. Here, each character delivers a long, intense monologue, showcasing their acting prowess to audiences. It’s as if Branagh wanted to create a film that harkens back to his theatre days in England.

While everyone shines in their respective roles, it’s director/actor Kenneth Branagh who shines brightest in Venice. Branagh delivers a performance that is less hammy than in the previous chapters. He has simultaneously grown more assured as Hercule Poirot, who has shed some of his cockiness as he ages. However, his mind remains as sharp as ever. Equally devilish are Michelle Yeoh and Jude Hill. Yeoh and Hill’s performances are as unsettling as they are captivating.

Overall, A Haunting in Venice is easily the best of Branagh’s Poirot adaptations. From its gothic 40s Venetian setting to its eerie supernatural tone, it’s creepy and fun to watch. It’s a film that makes this a welcome entry to the 2023 Halloween season for horror and non-horror fans alike.

Rating: 3.5/5 atoms

A Haunting in Venice hits theaters on September 15th.