Kenneth Branagh’s ‘A Haunting in Venice’ Review: A Paranormal Thriller or Classic Christie Mystery?

The Third Chapter in Branagh’s Poirot Saga

Kenneth Branagh is back, not just as Hercule Poirot, but also behind the lens, in the latest film, ‘A Haunting in Venice’. For many, this glossy ensemble-driven narrative is reminiscent of the early excitement surrounding the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Starting strong with the 2017 hit, ‘A Murder on the Orient Express’, the franchise stumbled a bit with ‘Death on the Nile’ in 2021. Gal Gadot’s line delivery left much to be desired, and external controversies surrounding its cast further hindered its appeal.

Now, Branagh, with his third Poirot venture, raises a question: Is this film truly a leap into the horror genre? The title suggests so, but Branagh labels it a “paranormal thriller“.

Grappling with Horror – or Not?

A significant debate has been brewing. Is ‘A Haunting in Venice’ really a horror film? The trailer does push that narrative, with Poirot’s mirror jump scare and a title suggesting a ghostly tale. But Kenneth Branagh says otherwise. He envisions it more as a “paranormal thriller”. The movie might lack in bone-chilling horror moments, but its promotional strategy indeed leaned heavily into the supernatural vibes, setting an expectation of fear.

Delving Deeper into the Venetian Mystery

The film revolves around Poirot, who after a period of self-imposed exile in Venice post ‘Death on the Nile’, gets pulled into another mystery. His otherwise peaceful life, interrupted only by the occasional requests for guidance, is completely upturned when a close friend, the renowned mystery writer Ariadne Oliver (played by Tina Fey), thrusts him into a séance at the residence of a famed opera singer, Rowena Drake. The séance, meant to uncover details of Drake’s daughter Alicia’s tragic death, spirals into chaos, setting the stage for another Poirot classic mystery.

Branagh’s New Directorial Experiments

This film saw Branagh taking creative risks, employing varied techniques such as the shaky-cam and direct character-to-audience address. While these experimental shots aimed to draw viewers deep into Poirot’s investigations, their effectiveness remains debatable. The theatrical character portrayals, especially Tina Fey’s rendition of Ariadne, set a stark contrast with Branagh’s nuanced portrayal of Poirot.

The Ensemble and Their Performances

Branagh’s film isn’t short on talent. Yet, despite the presence of renowned actors, the film feels slightly mismatched in terms of character interactions. Jamie Dornan’s portrayal of Dr. Ferrier is an enigma – a blend of intrigue and confusion. The chemistry, or lack thereof, between Dornan and young Jude Hill, who plays his son Leopold, makes for an interesting subplot. Michelle Yeoh’s presence, although commanding, feels underutilized, while Camille Cottin and Kelly Reilly give memorable performances.

A Horror Ambiance but a Mystery Heart

While Branagh may have intended for a slight horror overlay, the real allure remains the mystery itself. The intricate plot, woven with care, is classic Agatha Christie. This movie serves as a reminder that, amidst the sea of mystery narratives, Christie’s prowess remains unparalleled. The film might have its quirks and critics, but the heart of the story is undeniably gripping.

Final Thoughts

‘A Haunting in Venice’ may oscillate between genres, but it remains a testament to the enduring appeal of Agatha Christie’s narrative brilliance. While some may find the horror elements lacking, the real enjoyment lies in the unraveling of a classic Poirot mystery. And with the character’s deepening enigma, audiences are left wondering: When will the world get an origin story for Poirot’s iconic mustache?