Set against the hauntingly beautiful backdrop of the city’s architecture, A Haunting in Venice transports us to a creepy post-World War II Venice during Halloween. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, who also resumes the iconic role of Hercule Poirot, the film marks the triumphant return of the legendary detective. Building on the success of 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express and 2022’s Death on the Nile, this classic murder mystery thrusts viewers into a world of shadows and secrets occurring within the walls of one of Venice’s ancient palazzos.
The film introduces us to a reclusive Poirot who has retired to Venice in hopes of a quiet life. However, when invited by his friend (Tina Fey) to attend a séance on All Hallows’ Eve, and tempted by the opportunity to debunk spiritual medium Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh), he is soon drawn into a baffling web of lies and deceit when a guest is murdered.
The plot itself is fairly formulaic, honouring the timeworn locked-room mystery formula of a couple of grisly murders in a lavish setting, combined with the traditional list of suspects each with different motivations to untangle. However, the story is elevated by the addition of supernatural intrigue with the séance and possibility of paranormal forces beyond even the great Poirot’s understanding at play!
Branagh masterfully blends the classic detective story with elements of the thriller and gothic. The suspense is expertly paced, and the supernatural elements are interestingly contrasted against Poirot’s rationality, creating a unique whodunnit experience that pays homage to Agatha Christie’s intricate storytelling.
The screenplay, by Oscar nominee Michael Green, (based on Christie’s lesser-known novel “Hallowe’en Party”), successfully captures the essence of Christie’s works, helped in no small part by the strength of the ensemble cast and the evocative setting.
Venice itself plays a pivotal role in the film’s eerie atmosphere. The city’s decaying grandeur, mist-covered canals, and labyrinthine streets serve as the perfect backdrop for the unfolding mystery. The cinematography by the brilliant Haris Zambarloukos captures both the beauty of and the sense of foreboding in the city.
Branagh portrays Poirot with the same meticulousness and charisma fans have come to expect, but it is the stellar ensemble that truly makes the film, proving how casting can elevate a film, especially when contrasted with the arguably poor casting choices of Death on the Nile. Jamie Dornan‘s unnerving performance as shell-shock sufferer Doctor Ferrier, Camille Cottin‘s reserved charm as housemaid Olga Seminoff, and Tina Fey’s sharp wit as Poirot’s friend and crime novelist Ariadne Oliver all contribute to the film’s rich tapestry of personalities. The young Jude Hill (Belfast) steals the show with his natural talent as Leopold, the son of the traumatised Doctor.
Suffice to say, A Haunting in Venice delivers a satisfying and thought-provoking narrative that will leave audiences pondering. Kenneth Branagh’s direction, the exceptional cast, and Venice’s atmospheric allure combine to create a unique detective drama.
If you’re a fan of Christie’s timeless mysteries or just some beautiful visuals, this haunting tale is a must-see. Poirot is back, and he’s as brilliant and enigmatic as ever!
A Haunting in Venice is in cinemas now.