A Haunting in Venice: Review

Kenneth Branagh’s Poirot movies have not had an easy ride. With the critical success of Murder on the Orient Express, future instalments had some pretty large shoes to fill. This was, unfortunately, not met by its sequel Murder on the Nile. Sceptical of the threequel, I must confess I left feeling pleasantly surprised. Successfully integrating the suspense and intrigue of Orient, with some additional chilling sequences to keep audiences hooked, A Haunting is for any Poirot fan who seeks an additional thrill.

That’s right, folks, A Haunting in Venice is not for the faint of heart. Whilst it would be inaccurate to call the movie a fully-fledged horror, it is certainly spookier than its predecessors. Injecting fright into the mystery genre, the film is packed with jump scares and eerie moments of pause that compliments its murder mystery subject matter well. Heightened by the delightful performance by Michelle Yeoh (Everything Everywhere All at Once) as the film’s psychic medium, with haunting shrieks to the camera enacted during the séance, audiences are instantly drawn into the mystery behind Alicia’s mysterious suicide.

As such, the picture maintains a delicate balance between realist crime fiction and supernatural thriller. Brought to us through the perplexing mind of Branagh’s Poirot, desperately trying to discover the secret of the séance, viewers are made to tiptoe the equilibrium between appearance and reality. With each noise, apparition and later, death – audiences never quite know what forces are at work. Do you believe Poirot’s logical solution? Or are supernatural forces actually to blame?

Kenneth Branagh once again gives a great performance as Poirot. But this time, one can truly feel as if he has met his match. For an investigator whose sole purpose is to reach the truth of the matter, a séance based on apparitions and superstition is perhaps his worst nightmare. Branagh’s performance effectively conveys a man coming to terms with his ideals, questioning his loyalties, and reaffirming his beliefs. All the while, audience are not forced to follow Poirot’s conclusions. In fact, the ambiguity of the film’s climax is what makes it so compelling.

Nonetheless, there are times when Poirot loses his realism, and becomes just another omniscient investigator. The whole charm of Orient Express, I find, is that audiences are given all the hints, and yet are still unable to figure out the final solution. However, in A Haunting in Venice Poirot’s solving of the case feels more like a miraculous coincidence rather than a logical deduction of events. The whole point of Agatha Christie’s detective fiction is we go through the methods, motives, alibis, time schedules – and only through this is the detective able to make the final conclusion. However, in this recent instalment, one is left rather confused as to how exactly Poirot works out the case. As such, his almost God-like foresight loses the realist intelligence so integral to Poirot’s character.

Having said that, characters such as Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly) and Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey) maintain their realist portrayal till the end. Each motivation, narrative arc and (spoiler alert!) plot twist is charted. Without giving too much away, revelations about these characters remain both shocking and yet distinctly gratifying. One never feels as if the film’s handling of their narrative trajectories falls into farfetched or unlikely outcomes (as it does, occasionally, with Poirot). In fact, these characters remain thoroughly clear and well-defined for the duration, providing viewers with captivating, nuanced, and conflicted figures.

In essence, A Haunting in Venice is a thoroughly enjoyable watch. Although certainly benefitting from the plot armour of Poirot’s miraculous ‘Aha!’ moments, one remains, for the most part, thoroughly engrossed in the blend of realism and supernatural horror that the film provides.

Feature image: ‘Illuminated Venice at Night’, by Vish Pix on Pexels

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