Death was only the beginning.
A Haunting in Venice is a 2023 supernatural mystery film directed by Kenneth Branagh, written by Michael Green, produced by Kinberg Gere, The Mark Gordon Company, TSG Entertainment, Scott Free Productions, and Agatha Christie Limited, and distributed by 20th Century Studios. It is based off of Agatha Christie's 1969 novel, Hallowe'en Party. This is the third film in the Poirot franchise. It was preceded by Death on the Nile.
"You are here to discredit me. But I can talk to the dead." - Joyce Reynolds
Former detective Hercule Poirot is now retired. But when Poirot attends a séance with his old friend Araidne Oliver, bodies begin to show up, and the detective must uncover the culprit...and discover if there is a supernatural evil at the core of this murder.
I feel very similarly about A Haunting in Venice as I did about Death on the Nile.
This film is an entertaining, decent enough murder mystery. Once again, Kenneth Branagh proves that he is a slick director who knows how to make a movie. Death on the Nile had a visual flair to it, and I'd say A Haunting in Venice takes that visual flair to the next level. It takes place in a gothic orphanage, so there's plenty of creepy spaces and dark hallways that Branagh uses to play with the audience. The direction just spices up the movie a bit.
Another thing I really enjoyed about A Haunting in Venice was the horror edge. I hesitate to call this film a horror movie, because it isn't really, but it definitely feels like a September spook to get you ready for the Halloween season. From the beginning of the film, it is incredibly unsettling. It takes place on Halloween night, and the story uses that to its advantage. Even when nothing is going wrong, you feel this sense of dread that something dark is going to happen. It is a very eerie movie, and I think that was a nice addition to Branagh's Poirot.
This movie deviates wildly from Agatha Christie's novel, and I think that works for certain parts of the film. Hallowe'en Party (the book that this is based off of) is a relatively normal Poirot mystery that just happens to take place on Halloween. It isn't a ghost story. There's not really any elements of horror in it. The mystery itself is pretty different from what's in the movie, and I think the movie did a good job of creating its own mystery while keeping characters and moments from the book in here. The nature of the murder and the way it's solved is completely original, and I think that that's a nice change of pace from both Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile.
One thing that Death on the Nile did that I really did not like was it took way too long to get to the murder. A Haunting in Venice gets going pretty quickly. The séance and murder both happen within the first twenty-five minutes of the film. It feels like it moves at a brisker, cleaner pace, and you don't have to spend time getting to know these ensemble characters that you don't really care about all too much. It skips over all of that and just gets to the meat of the film, which is the whodunit.
I got pretty much what I expected from A Haunting in Venice, but nothing more than that.
This movie feels like a bunt. It's trying the easiest, most reliable way to get on base. It isn't really swinging. It's just trying to reach first base in any way possible. And I think it does. But it doesn't feel like a swing. There's no risks being taken. There's nothing super interesting that the movie does with the characters or the camera. It just wants to get to first, but nothing else.
And that's what the Poirot movies are in general. They are safe bets. They aren't ever going to be terrible, because Agatha Christie is a proven great writer, and her stories are really good. But they will never be great either, because they are these safe, somewhat generic murder mysteries. They follow a formula, and that formula is effective, but it cannot create something great. And I guess that's a little disappointing. Whereas Knives Out breaks out of the formula, the Poirot movies live in the formula.
One thing I really did not like in this movie was the way it was edited. It feels like the editors were trying too hard to make this a horror movie. They threw in some of the worst jump scares I have ever seen. These jump scares were never built up. They weren't a rising tension paid off by a startling, scary moment. They were just these loud bangs accompanied by random images. The first scene of the film is a bunch of birds flying around. All of the sudden, a parrot appears and eats a bird, and it's done as a jump scare. It was just stupid. I also thought that they did a really bad job of intercutting scenes. Two characters would be having a conversation, but before it feels like the conversation was over, the film would cut to a shot of the rain hammering the orphanage outside. It was really choppy, and it completely pulled me out of the film.
Finally, because the film deviates from Christie's novel, the mystery and reveal are not as tight as they should be. Once you find out the killer and the explanation, you start thinking back to all of the moments in the film that raised questions. Most of those questions were answered, but some of them were left dangling. There are also a few large plot holes that you can definitely notice if you think about it too much. The writers of this movie are inferior to Agatha Christie. They cannot come up with a mystery and a reveal that is as good or better than she would've. So, while I think the final twist is effective, I don't think it is as tight as it may have been if they had followed the book more closely.
Final Thoughts and Score
A Haunting in Venice is another decent enough Poirot mystery that has a nice supernatural kick to it, but is really more of the same at the end of the day.
I will go Savory here. Age range is 11+.
SWEET N' SOUR SCALE
Sweet (Great) Savory (Good) Sour (Bad)
"A Haunting in Venice"
Fun Factor: 7/10
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Rated PG-13 for moderate violence, frightening themes and images, language, thematic elements
Released on September 15, 2023
1 hour and 43 minutes
Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot
Tina Fey as Araidne Oliver
Kelly Reilly as Rowena Drake
Michelle Yeoh as Joyce Reynolds
Kyle Allen as Maxime Gerard
Camille Cottin as Olga Seminoff
Jamie Dornan as Dr. Leslie Ferrier
Jude Hill as Leopold Ferrier
Ali Khan as Nicholas Holland
Emma Laird as Desdemona Holland
Riccardo Scamarcio as Vitale Portfoglio
Rowan Robinson as Alicia Drake