Review – A Haunting in Venice



Synopsis Hercule Poirot is drawn out of retirement to debunk a haunted house in Venice, only to discover a murder plot that shouldn't be physically possible.

Length 1 hour, 43 minutes

Release Date September 15, 2023


Rating PG-13

Distribution Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Directing Kenneth Branagh

Writing Michael Green, based on "Hallowe'en Party" by Agatha Christie

Composition Hildur Guðnadóttir

Starring Kyle Allen, Kenneth Branagh, Camille Cottin, Jamie Dornan, Tina Fey, Jude Hill, Ali Khan, Emma Laird, Kelly Reilly, Riccardo Scamarcio, Michelle Yeoh

I love the fact that Hollywood is allowing a major franchise to exist based on the whodunnit novels of Agatha Christie. In our age of endless sequels and franchise fatigue, it is lovely to see Hollywood use its powers for not-evil for once and let one of our greatest living directors spin yarns around one of the most beloved authors of the 20th century.

Kenneth Branagh is arguably neither the first nor best actor to have ever played the great detective, Hercule Poirot. Great actors like David Suchet, Albert Finney, and Peter Ustinov have all played the role with great prestige, many of them adapting multiple Agatha Christie novels as part of extended franchises. That said, Branagh’s movies are still magical and bring a lot of energy to the characters, particularly from a Shakespearean actor famous for being able to chew the scenery and still find the humanity of his characters.

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: Several jump scares, depictions of dead bodies, brief depictions of blood, and discussions of murder.
Language/Crude Humor: Limited to none.
Drug/Alcohol References: Characters casually drink and smoke.
Sexual Content: Limited to none.
Spiritual Content: The film thematically explores ghosts, the afterlife, psychics, and rational explanations for their appearances and claims.
Other Negative Content: A brief depiction of spiritualism, possession, and vengeful spirits.
Positive Content: Themes of faith, reason, and justice.


Kenneth Branagh’s first film still holds the charm of being the strongest of its franchise in my book, mostly because it is drawing most directly from Christie’s most famous and popular whodunnit novel. Murder on the Orient Express (2017) is equally a flex and return to form for the great director of popular Shakespeare adaptations like Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing.

It sports a big cast including Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, and Daisy Ridley, and feels like a blockbuster. Its immediate sequel Death on the Nile (2022) felt much the same, albeit a smaller thematic retread with a less interesting ending, sporting the likes of Russell Brand, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, and Letitia Wright.

Given the last film was a box office bomb, it is not surprising that its immediate follow-up is beginning to show signs that Branagh is losing clout. Its budget is likely lower than its prior film, it was shot in a more contained location with less CGI, and the sprawling cast of celebrities has been reduced to Tina Fey, Michelle Yeoh, and the guy who played the villain in John Wick: Chapter 2.

Thankfully, the more modest production does not reflect on the quality of the film itself. A Haunting in Venice might very well be the best film of its trilogy, successfully elevating the more modest source material of Christie’s book Hallowe’en Party and transforming it into a modest supernatural thriller with elements of horror added for good measure—and released in the leadup to Halloween no less.

The story picks up in the years following the previous two films. The famed Belgian detective has now retired to a humble abode in Venice and is living comfortably, with the city around him celebrating the end of the Second World War. He is attempting to live a secluded life of isolation, but unfortunately suffers the indignity of having dozens of suitors constantly asking him to solve mysteries for him.

When an old friend—a famous author who writes murder mystery stories—appears and asks him to debunk a séance at a haunted house, he cannot help but take up the opportunity to debunk the mad ravings of a self-proclaimed spiritualist, before discovering something more sinister is afoot.

One of the benefits of Branagh’s adaptations has been his attempts to modernize the original books by adding small plot elements that adjust the original structure of the stories, focusing more on traditional character arcs, and adding light flavor and details that build extra layers into the story. His first film did this to modest effect, using the book as a launching pad to explore and question Poirot’s concept of justice. The newest film does this too, but instead tackles the subjects of religion and superstition.

Poirot is a thorough man of his time—being a strict rationalist, modernist, and skeptic. He has lived through two World Wars and seen the worst of humanity as a police officer and a detective, and he says very early on in the film that he cannot bring himself to have faith in the supernatural. Its existence would imply that God exists and that objective justice exists, and he no longer has the faith to believe in those things.

Being trapped in a supposedly haunted mansion gives Poirot an excellent foil for him to grapple with these ideas. He repeatedly insists through the film’s conclusion that supernatural phenomena must always have a rational explanation and repeatedly shows that superstition is a tool for evil people to manipulate others. However, the film does not rest so easily on this solution. It constantly leaves the door open for the possibility of ghosts and mystical things to be right around the corner, leaving several points in the story open to interpretation.

One could easily chop these creative decisions up to mere sentimentality—an acknowledgment by Branaugh and the filmmakers that chastizing a moderately religious audience is unpalatable—but these ideas are sewn into Poirot’s story arc itself and serve as vital ongoing character development from where he starts the film. Poirot needs to regain his faith—if not in God then at least in his belief in the work he is doing.

The switch to a supernatural thriller also benefits the film tremendously from a visual and storytelling perspective. A Haunting in Venice is a far more intimate and claustrophobic film than the sprawling environments of the previous two films, with the camera constantly resorting to Dutch angles and handheld shots to make the audience feel more cramped. But the end result of this is a movie that looks and feels completely different from its predecessors while still building on Branaugh’s writing and directing eccentricities and choices.

A Haunting in Venice, much like its predecessors, is somewhat messy and awkward in places. Branagh has not reinvented the wheel with these movies nor greatly shaken up a timeless character. However, it is clear in every frame of the film that he adores the character of Poirot just as he adores Hamlet and Benedick. These films are filled with equal parts whimsy and reverence for their source material. Even as their size and scale decrease with subsequent adaptions, they remain charming and wonderful. And I could not help but love it!


+ Great performances
+ Fun retelling of Agatha Christie's book
+ Engaging themes and story concepts


- Goofy direction and cinematography
- Messy story execution

The Bottom Line

Branaugh's adaptions of Hercule Poirot remain messy but infectiously fun, with his third film in the franchise offering a killer horror film to kick off the Halloween season!



Tyler Hummel

Born into the unexplored residential backwater of Chicago, Tyler Hummel is a graduate of Tribeca Flashpoint College where he studied Sound Design for Film and Interactive Media. When he isn't hosting his public access talk show The Fox Valley Film Critics or collecting DragonBall Z figurines, he enjoys writing and directing short films. As with Rick from Casablanca, "he's a man like any other man, just more so!"

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