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Movie Review: 'A Haunting in Venice'

A critic struggles with his criticism.

By Sean PatrickPublished 11 days ago 6 min read

A Haunting in Venice (2023)

Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Written by Michael Green

Starring Kenneth Branagh, Tina Fey, Kelly Reilly, Jamie Dornan, Michelle Yeoh, Jude Hill

Release Date September 15th, 2023

Published September 17th, 2023

I want to like A Haunting in Venice, but I just can't. I've written and rewritten this review several times, each with a different take on the movie. I tried to find what I liked about the movie and leaned into that for a while. Then I went hard on the movie and tore it up and erased that. I don't know why I am struggling with a movie that is not really so complicated as to require such mental machinations. But here we are with a film critic having seen a movie and still trying to decide if he liked it or not. Do I like A Haunting in Venice? Yes or No?

A Haunting in Venice returns Kenneth Branagh behind the camera and into the role of famed detective Hercule Poirot. In this adventure, Poirot is several years retired from his experience in Death on the Nile. Now living in Venice, Poirot has hired a former police detective, Vitale (Riccardo Scamarcio), to keep away those that would draw him back into the detective role he's trying to leave behind. And yet, Vitale makes way for one of Poirot's old friends, Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey) to get in to see him. Oliver is the author who created the legend of Poirot by basing her bestsellers on his cases.

Naturally, she has an interest in getting her friend back to solving murders and she's got just the thing for him. On this night, Halloween night in Venice, she's attending a seance. She intrigues Poirot by admitting that though she's a skeptic, she can't seem to figure out how famed psychic Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh) does what she does. Oliver wants Poirot to help her debunk Reynolds or confirm that there is something real to her and thus a confirmation of something beyond life. Poirot dismisses her notions of the fantastic and agrees to debunk the psychic.

Attending the seance alongside Oliver, Poirot, and Poirot's security man, are a rogue's gallery of potential murder suspects, per usual for a Poirot mystery. First, there is the host of the event. a former opera singer and celebrity, Roweena Drake (Kelly Reilly). Roweena set up this event on the notion that Reynolds could contact her late daughter, Alicia, who died under mysterious circumstances a year before. She's invited her family doctor, Leslie Ferrier (Jamie Dorner) and he has brought his young son, Leopold (Jude Hill). Already on hand is Roweena's maid and caretaker, Olga (Camille Coltin), and uninvited but arriving regardless is Alicia's former fiancée, Maxime (Kyle Allen).

Though Leopold is excluded, for obvious reasons, the rest will gather in Alicia's bedroom as Reynolds attempts to contact Alicia. In the process, Poirot will expose Reynolds as a fraud, survive an attempt on his life, and then Reynolds will end up dead. Her death is the true catalyst for the film's central mystery, one that will grow to encompass at least one more body and connect back to Alicia's death, tying everything up in a neat little bow. It's all very clean and efficient and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that except, if you're like me, and you guess the plot at hand early on, and the fun drains out of the proceedings quickly.

Look, I am no smarter than you are, dear reader, I just have a lot of experience with plots like this. Thus, perhaps, it's harder for me to suspend disbelief and immerse myself in something that doesn't have the ambition to deepen its mystery beyond the mechanics of a mystery. And that's how I feel about A Haunting in Venice, without the mystery to hold your interest, you are left with a movie that is merely mechanically progressing to a conclusion that is relatively obvious if you start tugging at the strings. It's all incredibly professional in construction but it lacks appeal beyond merely being a mystery. Without the mystery, what are you left with? I didn't have the mystery, so I grew weary of A Haunting in Venice rather quickly.

On the Everyone's a Critic Movie Review Podcast, our classic for the week, paired with A Haunting in Venice, is Witness for the Prosecution. Both films are adaptations of Agatha Christie novels and Witness for the Prosecution is the perfect counterpoint to A Haunting in Venice. The film's share a certain lack of suspense in the mystery plot. But, in Witness for the Prosecution, the mystery is merely a vehicle to carry us along as we enjoy the company of Charles Laughton and his witty interactions with the rest of the cast, Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich, and Elsa Lanchester.

Witness for the Prosecution is funny, ingenious, and convoluted all at once and it works because the point of the movie is Laughton's glorious performance. The mystery is over-egged and rather silly in execution. And that doesn't matter in the least because the fun is happening in watching Laughton unfold the plot, expose it, and comment upon it. Poirot could function in a similar fashion in A Haunting in Venice, but Branagh and screenwriter Michael Green instead choose to lean into a dour and ponderous approach to the character.

We should be enjoying Poirot exposing this plot. We should enjoy the withering way in which he views Yeoh's con artist psychic and how he uses his wits to expose the real mystery. But there is no fun to be had. I don't want to spoil it for people who might still find something to enjoy about A Haunting in Venice, so I will only say that something happens to Poirot that prevents him from using his gifts to their full measure. I imagine this choice is made because the plot isn't strong enough to withstand Poirot at full strength, he'd likely rip apart this mystery with the ease with which I did.

In my opinion, Poirot should be the Charles Laughton as Sir Wilfrid of A Haunting in Venice. He should be funny, cantankerous, annoyed at being asked to work a case that is beneath his talent. Once he exposes the initial mystery with great ease the real mystery should intrigue and delight him so much that he relishes digging into it to see where it leads. But sadly, there is simply no joy in A Haunting in Venice. It's also not frightening or surprising so what is left?

Huh, well there it is. I finally reconciled my feelings. So why was I so conflicted if I am finding it easy now to pan the film? I think the main problem is that I love and respect Kenneth Branagh's work. I think he's an exceptional director and the look and feel of A Haunting in Venice is terrific. The setting is disorienting in a good way, the movie moves at a brisk pace, and the performances are not bad. It's just that rickety mystery and the lack of any kind of fun that ruins it for me.

Find my archive of more than 20 years and nearly 2000 movie reviews at Find my modern review archive on my Vocal Profile, linked here. Follow me on Twitter at PodcastSean. Follow the archive blog on Twitter at SeanattheMovies. Listen to me talk about movies on the Everyone is a Critic Movie Review Podcast. If you have enjoyed what you have read, consider subscribing to my writing on Vocal. If you''d like to support my writing, you can do so by making a monthly pledge or by leaving a one-time tip. Thanks!


About the Creator

Sean Patrick

Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for Everyone's a Critic Movie Review Podcast. I am a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.

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