The first film was an adaptation of a classic book, and its success led to a larger, grander sequel that didn’t quite nail the execution, so it’s quite telling that the third attempt by actor/director Kenneth Branagh goes slightly more claustrophobic, in a simple house in Venice.
But while audiences might be familiar with the adventures of Agatha Christie’s fictional Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, there’s no denying that Branagh’s masterful touch is what delivers the mystery and reveal that makes A Haunting in Venice work with a modern, more discerning audience. Murder mysteries don’t always strike a chord with a more educated audience, but Branagh makes it seem as easy as breathing, captivating audiences in another ensemble outing that keeps audiences guessing in this loose adaptation of Christie’s Halloween’s Party, a significantly better entry into his Detective Poirot movies following 2022’s Death on the Nile.
The actor/director has also learned much from his earlier outings, crafting a tighter story and like the first movie, Murder on the Orient Express, Branagh excels when he has a cast that trusts him. It helped that he had Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer and Judi Dench amongst others then, though audiences were held back by the movie’s slow pace.
With Death on the Nile, audiences had an equally starry cast including Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer and Emma Mackey, augmented by even more stunning visuals and while the pace was faster, it bombed at storytelling, mainly because the characters were one-dimensional, and it lacked the fun and thrill of piecing together a murder like the previous outing.
In this third outing, we get Michelle Yeoh, Tina Fey, Kelly Reily and more, but far stronger characterisation. Yeoh hit things out of the park as the medium, Mrs Reynolds but even if Branagh were to have cast someone else, viewers would still be able to understand and empathise with the character. That’s not to say that Yeoh isn’t a wonderful actress – she is – but the strength of the writing is much stronger here.
A Haunting in Venice also benefits from an entirely different story setup, in which murder doesn’t follow Poirot. Board a train? A passenger is murdered. Get on a cruise? The newlywed is murdered. In A Haunting in Venice, Poirot attempts to get to the bottom of the death of a girl who has already died long ago. How, you ask? Through a seance and some heebie-jeebies.
The horror elements in A Haunting in Venice completely refresh the movie-watching experience and add another layer because this isn’t just a murder mystery, it’s horror too. Of course, this isn’t the type of horror you’d expect in The Nun II or Talk To Me, but there are enough creepy and eerie moments that would make a kid under 13 scared. Just like Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile, there is still some comedy sprinkled here and there, mainly as a result of Detective Poirot’s wit.
As a standalone story, A Haunting in Venice stands on its own as well, and the only thread that holds these movies together is the main character, Poirot. That said, viewers who have seen the first two films will have a deeper understanding and appreciation of Poirot, he’s older and has lost confidence, vanity and ego, and is instead riddled by loss and grief, to the point where he’s no fun, and takes no joy or excitement in solving mysteries. His passion has burnt out, and together with the premise, makes you wonder if he has perhaps lost his mojo.
One little quibble is that even as a speedy 107-minute movie, A Haunting in Venice feels slow. This can be attributed to the horror-esque genre, as there is a need to build suspension and anticipation. However, given how the scares are minor and not as impactful, it just feels like wasted time.
Still, the results are satisfying and if Poirot recovers, we hope to see more of Branagh’s passion and determination in more successful sequels to come.
A Haunting in Venice is now out in theatres.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
A murder-mystery that hinges on horror, A Haunting in Venice continues the journey of Detective Hercule Poirot with better storytelling and characters than the previous outing.
Story - 7/10
Direction - 7/10
Characterisation - 7/10
Geek Satisfaction - 7/10