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REVIEW – ‘A Haunting in Venice’ is a Supernatural Mystery With Great Performances

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Kenneth Branagh returns to direct and star in the third of his Hercule Poirot films, A Haunting In Venice. As with its predecessors, Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile, Branagh brings yet another Agatha Christie novel to life. This installment of the franchise is based on Agatha Christie’s book titled “Hallowe’en Party”. In the opening, we find Poirot retired and living in Venice, Italy. On Halloween, Poirot’s old friend Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey) invites him to a séance in a haunted palazzo. Unbelieving and unimpressed, Poirot attends and is unfazed by the ghost tales told to the children, until the séance is underway. The film journeys with Poirot as he struggles with his belief as to whether ghosts and demons are real.

The séance is conducted by Mrs. Reynolds, played by Academy Award winner Michelle Yeoh. Mrs. Reynolds was invited by Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly) in an attempt to speak to her daughter Alicia (Rowan Robinson) who died a year ago. Alicia possesses Mrs. Reynolds, and claims she was murdered. Shortly after this, one of the guests is then murdered, bringing Poirot out of retirement for another case.

A Haunting in Venice premieres September 15 in theaters.

Editor’s Note: This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the film being covered here wouldn’t exist. To support the WGA and SAG-AFTRA, donate to the Entertainment Community Fund.

A Haunting in Venice Theatrical Poster
A Haunting in Venice Theatrical Poster

Official Synopsis

 “A Haunting in Venice,” an unsettling supernatural thriller based upon the novel “Hallowe’en Party” by Agatha Christie and directed by and starring Oscar® winner Kenneth Branagh as famed detective Hercule Poirot, will open in theaters nationwide September 15, 2023. With a screenplay by Oscar® nominee Michael Green, “A Haunting in Venice” is produced by Kenneth Branagh, Judy Hofflund, Ridley Scott, and Simon Kinberg, with James Prichard, Louise Killin, and Mark Gordon serving as executive producers. The film features a brilliant acting ensemble portraying a cast of unforgettable characters, including Kyle Allen, Kenneth Branagh, Camille Cottin, Jamie Dornan, Tina Fey, Jude Hill, Ali Khan, Emma Laird, Kelly Reilly, Riccardo Scamarcio, Michelle Yeoh. Set in eerie, post-World War II Venice on All Hallows’ Eve, “A Haunting in Venice” is a terrifying mystery featuring the return of the celebrated sleuth, Hercule Poirot. Now retired and living in self-imposed exile in the world’s most glamorous city, Poirot reluctantly attends a séance at a decaying, haunted palazzo. When one of the guests is murdered, the detective is thrust into a sinister world of shadows and secrets. 

REVIEW – An Unsettling Mystery Without Too Much Horror

A Haunting in Venice is recognizable as an entry in Branagh’s Hercule Poirot franchise, with the supernatural being the new element this time around. The house is said to be haunted, but Poirot doesn’t believe in ghosts or demons, or even God, which becomes the biggest mystery of all, as highlighted by this featurette released by 20th Century Studios.

The film contains supernatural elements and jumpscares as one would expect based on the title, but it’s not necessarily a scary story. A Haunting in Venice rides the fine line between not being too scary, while still having horror inspired moments. As someone who is not good with horror at all, I greatly enjoyed the balance that is found here. The tension is also very well done in that some moments may not be scary but still made me jump. It is very engaging and scary enough for someone not familiar with the genre that it keeps you on your toes. 

There are also plenty of moments where Branagh plays with imagery that looks freaky to build up the horror before the story even gets to the palazzo. For example in the beginning of the film, there are people rowing Poirot and Ariadne’s boats at night wearing unsettling black hoods and a mask that help establish the visual tone of the film. Another factor that helped to build the feeling of uneasiness is the story structure, where all of the characters are stuck in the palazzo due the rain. They’re trapped with whoever, and whatever, is in there until Poirot can get to the bottom of it. Poirot serves as the audience’s proxy, and his journey as a detective and a skeptic mirrors that of the audience. To get through this haunting mystery, both Poirot and the audience have to be scared into accepting the truth.

A scene from 20th Century Studios' A HAUNTING IN VENICE. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.
A scene from 20th Century Studios’ A HAUNTING IN VENICE. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

This film has a large cast and is full of great performances. From the second Mrs. Reynolds arrives, in an eerie black coat and white mask with a teardrop, Yeoh’s performance is captivating. She speaks about the ghosts, knowing information that she shouldn’t know. Her performance is particularly memorable when she is possessed to speak to Alicia. She uses a typewriter to convey the messages she hears from spirits, and something as simple as the way Yeoh puts a finger down to type a letter is terrifying.

Another standout is Jude Hill as booksmart kid Leopold Ferrier. Hill helps to build up the tension of the story when he explains some of the palazzo’s history to Poirot, and the audience. He also brings a lot of heart to his scenes, showing the love he has for his dad, Dr. Leslie Ferrier (Jamie Dornan). It’s notable that Dornan and Hill also played the father and son role in Belfast, making this an adorable reunion.

(L-R): Tina Fey as Ariadne Oliver, Michelle Yeoh as Mrs. Reynolds, and Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot in 20th Century Studios' A HAUNTING IN VENICE. Photo by Rob Youngson. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.
(L-R): Tina Fey as Ariadne Oliver, Michelle Yeoh as Mrs. Reynolds, and Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot in 20th Century Studios’ A HAUNTING IN VENICE. Photo by Rob Youngson. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

While Michelle Yeoh is amazing in A Haunting in Venice, she isn’t utilized enough. She delivers a haunting performance as a medium, and sells you on the supernatural aspects of the film, but I wish more would have been done with her character; especially considering that she is an Academy Award winning talent and one of the few people of color in the cast.

Beyond the story, there are often scenes were it is difficult to understand the dialogue, which made it challenging to understand the full story at times, particularly during a lot of exposition and the interviews. This is compounded by the fact that there is a lot of information thrown at the audience to understand the plot. Those who find it difficult to follow dialogue might have a hard time with this film.

RATING – 4/5 Pocky

Pocky Rating 4
Jorgie NBCU min e1694298510151

Jorgie is a pop culture fan and contributor at POCculture.com. He loves learning about visual effects, production, film, and art, and how they all come together to make films like Star Wars.

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