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A Haunting In Venice Review – A Creepier, Spookier Murder Mystery

A Haunting in Venice Review - FandomWire
A Haunting in Venice Review -FandomWire

After middling reception to both Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile, director and star Kenneth Branagh needed to find a new angle for his Hercule Poirot series. And while A Haunting in Venice, loosely based on Agatha Christie’s 1969 novel Hallowe’en Party, so far isn’t receiving rave reviews, reception has been positive and it certainly feels like a step in the right direction.

Kenneth Branagh in “A Haunting in Venice”/20th Century Studios

A Haunting in Venice Plot

It’s Venice, 1947, and famed detective Hercule Poirot is retired. No longer solving mysteries, he lives a life of solitude, even with a bodyguard to keep would-be clients at bay. The only other person even allowed in his home is the delivery man who drops off pastries twice a day. But someone like Poirot can only stay out of the game for so long.

He’s visited by an old acquaintance, mystery author Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey), who comes to him with a request. She invites Poirot to attend a seance where medium Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh) plans to speak with the late daughter of opera singer Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly).

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Oliver has tried – and failed – many times to conclusively debunk Reynolds’ methods and performances. She hopes Poirot can achieve what she has been unable to. Poirot agrees, as he has no time for such beliefs, angry that someone would prey on the vulnerable and desperate.

And of course, a murder eventually occurs, thrusting Poirot further into the spotlight. Naturally, everyone is a suspect, and only Hercule Poirot can solve the case.

The Critique

Right off the bat, A Haunting in Venice starts with a leg up. A murder mystery is simply a winning setup. It’s a genre where audiences can play along, trying to spot clues along the way, hoping to stay one step ahead of the on-screen detective. Whether or not you solve it is immaterial. It adds a level of connection unique to this type of movie. But that’s only part of it.

The mystery itself has to be well thought out, logical-without-being-obvious, complex enough to keep you guessing, but not so much where you leave the movie still trying to figure out whodunit. And for about 90% of the way, A Haunting in Venice was mostly nailing it. The final reveal and explanation didn’t fully land, which probably dropped the whole movie just a notch.

But the work to get there was some of the strongest in the now-trilogy from Branagh. Perhaps the best change Branagh made this time around was the general setting: Halloween night in a semi-rundown palazzo that’s purported to be both haunted and cursed. It gives a different vibe to the whole murder mystery theme.

It never goes full-on horror, but does veer into the spooky or creepy thriller side of things the setup lends itself to. A few well-timed jump scares do wonders to keep you on the edge of your seat. There’s just a different energy here than what you would expect from your typical murder mystery, and it’s a welcome change.

Kelly Reilly in “A Haunting in Venice”/20th Century Studios

Then there’s the ensemble. We’ve come to expect Branagh to put together a star-studded lineup in these movies, and a murder mystery is an easy way to squeeze in big name after big name. But he toned it down a little bit here. There are still some heavy hitters (2023’s Best Actress winner Yeoh, for one), but the overall star power isn’t the same as Orient Express or Nile. And that’s a good thing.

With those movies, it felt at times like some of those actors were cast only because of who they were. But here, Branagh has the strongest balance of known stars plus talent plus fit for the characters and story. That last part is key. Casting a big name doesn’t mean much if they’re a bad fit for the character. There are no such worries here.

A Haunting in Venice features the best collective acting of the trilogy so far. Tina Fey is especially impressive. She gets a few funny moments, as you would expect. But she does a lot more than just provide laughs. Young Jude Hill (Belfast, also directed by Branagh) proves that his breakout role was no fluke. Along with Branagh, Hill is reunited with Jamie Dornan, playing his father for a second time. It appears Branagh unlocked something special on the set of Belfast, as Dornan and Hill once again have terrific chemistry.

But back to the mystery itself, the piece that brings everyone together, characters in the movie and audiences alike. Here again, the spookier, creepier setup pays dividends, allowing director Branagh and screenwriter Michael Green to play with our minds. They want the characters and audiences second guessing themselves every step of the way. Is Joyce Reynolds a legitimate medium? Is the house actually haunted, with sinister, supernatural forces at play? Or are there logical explanations for everything? The push and pull is fantastic, combined with some truly great tension building.

Tina Fey, Michelle Yeoh, and Kenneth Branagh in “A Haunting in Venice”/20th Century Studios

In Conclusion

A Haunting in Venice can’t escape the standard genre tropes, but that’s part of the fun of the murder mystery movie. The big “drawing room scene” doesn’t fully hit, which caps its success just a hair. But with a welcome change of scenery, excellent performances across the board, and an engaging central mystery, the third time’s the charm for Branagh and Poirot.


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Written by Matt Hambidge