The Movie Guru: ‘A Haunting in Venice’ a creepy, satisfying whodunit

'A Haunting in Venice' is now in theaters.
20th Century/Courtesy photo

If you like your mysteries with a healthy side of Gothic horror, then this is the movie for you.

“A Haunting in Venice,” invites ghosts into Kenneth Branagh’s latest Agatha Christie-style whodunit. Reprising his role as Hercule Poirot, Branagh delivers a nicely creepy trapped-in-the-house mystery with more bite than 2020’s “Death on the Nile.” Whether or not you believe in ghosts, mystery fans will want to spend time at this Halloween party.

When the movie starts, Poirot insists that he’s retired from anything remotely resembling detective work. When an old associate asks him to go to a seance to see if he can unmask a supposed psychic, however, he soon stumbles across a fresh body. With a storm making the canals inaccessible and a killer somewhere in the building, Poirot must solve the case before all the guests turn into ghosts.

There’s a good balance between the mystery and Gothic elements of the movie, with the latter serving as an accent rather than taking over. The mystery itself is also structured well, relying on good groundwork and misdirection rather than withheld secrets or sudden surprises. I hadn’t guessed who the killer was before the big reveal, but when I looked back all the clues had been laid out for me quite neatly. The movie ends with the sense of a case well-solved, which is a big part of what makes mysteries so satisfying.

The Poirot character development was also integrated into the story far more neatly than in “Death on the Nile.” Branagh is committed to exploring the depths of Poirot’s psyche far more than Christie ever was, but in “Death” the sudden character beats were quite jarring. Here, they help drive Poirot’s whole involvement in the story and inform how he responds to certain moments. As a fun addition, it helps generate some nicely creepy moments as well.

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There are some missteps. Most notable are some of the camera choices, particularly during what are supposed to be tense moments of the movie. I don’t know who decided that a shaking camera during a closeup is supposed to mean that something terrible is about to happen, but whoever it was should be slapped. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a big neon sign saying “Hey, this is supposed to be scary!” and it literally never works.

Hardcore Christie lovers may have their own issues. While the movie is listed as an adaptation of Christie’s novel “Hallowe’en Party,” fans of the author will note that the movie’s plot has almost nothing to do with the original novel. The new plot is appropriately twisty, and still very much in the Christie style, but the only real similarities are a few character names and the date it’s set.

Still, there’s a lot here for mystery fans to enjoy. This is the third of Branagh’s Poirot adventures, but it’s the first one that’s left me wanting more.

Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at

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