A Haunting in Venice

Verdict: An impressive cast and spooky vibes cannot make up for a narrative slog

  • Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Yeoh, Jamie Dornan
  • September 15th 2023
  • Kenneth Branagh

Kenneth Branagh returns as famed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot in this loose adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Halloween Party.

After Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile, Kenneth Branagh is back as Hercule Poirot in A Haunting in Venice.

The spooky murder mystery, very loosely based on Agatha Christie’s novel Halloween Party, is set 10 years after the events of Death on the Nile. The year is 1947 and Poirot (Branagh) is now retired from being a private detective.

However, he gets lured out of retirement by his crime novelist friend Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey) who asks him to attend a séance with her at a haunted palazzo to debunk the famed psychic Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh).

When somebody dies during the séance, Poirot has to dust off his sleuthing skills to find out who did it.

But it’s not your typical case – Poirot starts to see and hear things in the palazzo, which was once an orphanage where many children died. The guests think “the children’s vendetta” is to blame for the death, but Poirot is confident the culprit is within the Halloween party.

As always, there is a star-studded line-up of suspects, including opera singer Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly), her doctor Leslie Ferrier (Jamie Dornan) and his peculiar son Leopold (Jude Hill), and Rowena’s religious housekeeper Olga Seminoff (Camille Cottin), among others.

The guests are unable to escape the palazzo due to a nasty storm so that gives Poirot the opportunity to interrogate them one by one.

The narrative follow the same structure as the previous two – Poirot goes around each suspect to collect their testimonies, investigates the area and presents his big conclusion in front of them all at the end.

If you like that formula, you will get on well with A Haunting in Venice. However, if you find the routine overdone and tired, you will find this a slog because there are a lot of big, explanatory monologues to wade through. The end reveal makes it all worthwhile though.

The supernatural spin on the classic whodunnit format makes this one feel different and more exciting. However, there are only a few minor thrills when it could have done with some major scares.

Quantity over quality is the best way to describe the characters. They are thinly written and the only cast members who shine are Yeoh as the spooky medium, Fey as Poirot’s wry pal, and Branagh himself, who is surprisingly funny. While none of the others get a chance to stand out, Dornan feels particularly wasted.

A Haunting in Venice is the best film in Branagh’s Poirot trilogy but not by much. It looks beautiful and the horror edge is welcome, but the narrative is still not compelling enough.

In cinemas Friday 15th September.

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