A Haunting in Venice (2023): Movie Review

Shikhar Jauhari

A Haunting in Venice

Once again, Kenneth Branagh and co-writer Michael Green are adapting novels by Agatha Christie. This time, the story takes place in Venice and is about a ghost.

Hercule Poirot, played by Kenneth Branagh, is a retired investigator who is summoned to evaluate Vanessa’s psychic abilities at a seance in a haunted palace.

The setting of this narrative is Venice in the years following WWII. This story has an element of folk horror, particularly in the setting of a quarry garden where spirits seem to hunt and kill their victims, creating an air of evil similar to Don’t Look Now. Hercule Poirot goes against his better judgment and attends an unexplained seance in a village. He then has to figure out who killed one of the attendees at the seance, among other motives like money, sex, and jealousy.

Steven Green (“Logan”), Simon Beaufoy (“Two For Joy”), and Kenneth Branagh painstakingly relocate Christie’s iconic English village to the fog-choked canals and decaying palazzos of 1947 Venice, further elevating the cosy detective clichés to the level of full-fledged horror.

Enjoyable and terrifying, this film will have viewers on the edge of their seats in the lead-up to Halloween thanks to Tina Fey’s portrayal of mystery author Ariadne Oliver and Jude Hill’s portrayal of Leopold Ferrier. Death on the Nile is still a fun mystery you shouldn’t miss before Halloween, even though it’s not as complicated or exciting as the COVID-delayed version from 2022.

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Branagh has mostly shied away from the ostentatious CGI that tarnished his earlier features, instead letting a haunted palazzo’s costumes, settings, and atmosphere do the heavy lifting. Kelly Reilly, Jude Hill, Jamie Dornan, and Michelle Yeoh all keep their respective positions and celebrity statuses under wraps.

Ariadne Oliver, the mystery author who most recently requested Poirot’s help, is played well by Fey. In contrast to the apparent star power in Orient Express and Nile, her staccato delivery and character portrayal offer a welcome change of pace; her timing is spot on. Despite falling short of expectations, A Haunting in Venice is a thrilling murder mystery still entertaining.

The Northern Irish actor Jude Hill has starred in several films and TV shows, including Belfast, directed by Kenneth Branagh, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, and the BBC series Magpie Murders. 

Playing the role of Hercule Poirot’s bodyguard, Vitale Portafoglio, in A Haunting in Venice, he grows suspicious after the murder of one of his friends and begins to suspect that Venice is cursed.

We learn early on that the palazzo is said to be haunted by the vengeful spirits of children who perished there many years ago during a plague epidemic. Even Poirot, the ultimate skeptic, starts to wonder what’s going on as Branagh heaps on the bizarre images and startling sound effects. Even if these horror tropes are blatantly clumsy and borrowed, the film makes excellent use of them.

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The intriguing plot of Kenneth Branagh’s Hercule Poirot film A Haunting in Venice puts Poirot’s mental stability to the test rather than his humanity or morals, and the film’s use of Venice’s richly atmospheric backdrop more than makes up for its lack of sheer entertainment value compared to Don’t Look Now.

Rowena Drake, played by Kelly Reilly, hires Michelle Yeoh to play the role of Joyce Reynolds, a social medium so that she might hold a seance at her palazzo while she grieves. After a murder breaks out during the seance, Poirot digs more and finds that Rowena Drake, the seance’s attendants, and the supernatural are all involved.

In her role as Poirot’s sidekick, Fey injects the film with a lighthearted spirit. She gives the demanding beverage of solving mysteries a much-needed fizz by adding carbonation. Branagh intends to depict a melancholy Poirot battling with deterioration, but fortunately, camp comedy interrupts. You would imagine the cast was having fun until he directed his ridiculous accent at French actress Camille Cottin, who portrays a housekeeper.

A Haunting in Venice lives up to its billing by centering on a mystery rather than many backstories and distracting quirks. Haris Zambarloukos, a regular collaborator with Branagh, provides stunning cinematography. Insightfully revealing Poirot’s unstable mental condition, the distorted viewpoints and off-kilter framing contribute to the resolution.  

Aside from that most implausible suspension of disbelief, Branagh’s latest is otherwise a typically enjoyable adult film; however, it is unlikely to inspire any meaningful discussions beyond how this renowned detective keeps his renowned mustache immaculately manicured while bobbing for apples.

MOVIE INFO

Genre: Crime, Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller

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A Haunting in Venice: Cast

  • Kenneth Branagh: Hercule Poirot
  • Michelle Yeoh: Joyce Reynolds
  • Jamie Dornan: Dr Leslie Ferrier
  • Tina Fey: Ariadne Oliver
  • Dylan Corbett-Bader: Baker
  • Amir El-Masry: Alessandro Longo
  • Riccardo Scamarcio: Vitale Portfoglio
  • Fernando Piloni: Vincenzo Di Stefano
  • Lorenzo Acquaviva: Grocer
  • David Menkin: Puppet Show MC
  • Camille Cottin: Olga Seminoff
  • Kelly Reilly: Rowena Drake
  • Jude Hill: Leopold Ferrier
  • Yaw Nimako-Asamoah: Child (Cookie Gobbler)
  • Clara Duczmal: Child (Crying Girl)
  • Rowan Robinson: Alicia Drake
  • Emma Laird: Desdemona Holland
  • Stella Harris: Child (Staircase 1)

A Haunting in Venice: Crew

  • Director: Kenneth Branagh          
  • Novel: Agatha Christie
  • Screenplay: Michael Green
  • Producer (p.g.a.): Kenneth Branagh
  • Producer (p.g.a.): Judy Hofflund
  • Producer: Simon Kinberg
  • Producer: Ridley Scott
  • Associate Producer: Martin Curry
  • Executive Producer: Mark Gordon
  • Executive Producer: Louise Killin
  • Executive Producer: James Prichard
  • Line Producer: Venice: Enrico Ballarin     
  • Music: Hildur Guðnadóttir           
  • Cinematography: Haris Zambarloukos
  • Editing: Lucy Donaldson
  • Casting: Lucy Bevan
  • Production Design: John Paul Kelly

A Haunting in Venice: Other Details

  • Release date: September 15, 2023
  • Gross worldwide: $122,290,456
  • Production companies: 20th Century Studios, Kinberg Genre, Scott Free Productions, TSG Entertainment, The Mark Gordon Company
  • Distributor: 20th Century Studios

* MPAA rating: PG-13 (Sequences of Action|Language|Violence)

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