Haunting In Venice’s step into the supernatural is the right move for the Poirot series

Kenneth Branagh in A Haunting in Venice
(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

With October just around the corner, spooky season is swiftly approaching – although for some it has already arrived, as they donned an all-black wardrobe and laid the pumpkins out by the front door as soon as the calendar turned to September 1st. With each Halloween comes a bunch of new movies hoping to spook audiences, and this year is no different. The likes of video game adaptation Five Nights At Freddy’s, bloody affair Saw X, and horror sequel The Exorcist: Believer are all releasing in cinemas – and that’s just the start of it. However, this time there is a surprise addition in the line-up as a certain moustachioed detective joins their ranks.

That’s because actor, director, and all-round Hollywood legend Kenneth Branagh’s Poirot film series is seriously shaking things up with a turn to the supernatural. Whilst previous instalments Murder On The Orient Express and Death On The Nile certainly had a more traditional approach when it came to adapting the classic stories of beloved author Agatha Christie, the latest chapter A Haunting In Venice embraces the spooky spirit of this time of year. Poirot-normal Activity anyone? 

Paranormal activity

Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot in A Haunting in Venice

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

Loosely based on Christie’s story Hallowe’en Party, this film already had an eerie edge thanks to the novel Branagh here chose to adapt. However, the emphasis really is on the word ‘loose’ as the filmmakers take the story in a new direction, something which has already caused controversy amongst the writer’s fans. Not only has the action been transposed from the English countryside to a sinking Venice, but the plot is dramatically different too. We rejoin Poirot (Branagh) as he’s attempting to enjoy retirement in Italy – a bodyguard (Riccardo Scamarcio) hilariously pushes anyone harassing him with a mystery into the canal waters. However, he is drawn out when an old friend (Tina Fey) invites him to a séance where a mother (Kelly Reilly) is trying to contact her dead daughter. Of course, soon enough more bodies start to pile up… 

Whilst moving the story in a new direction has attracted some backlash from dedicated Christie readers, ultimately Branagh’s perhaps risky lean into the supernatural, taking full advantage of the novel’s Halloween night setting, was the right move to make for the franchise. Tension haunts every scene as not only is a murderer on the loose, but something otherworldly appears to be at play too. As the characters run around this gorgeous yet collapsing gothic palazzo they discover something new behind every door, with there always being the chance that it might be something seemingly unexplainable. 

It builds on the already suspenseful atmosphere, heightening it to such a level you will find yourself increasingly leaning forward in your seat. The supernatural edge also brings new life to the visuals too as Branagh captures the shadows of the decrepit mansion and plays with the darkness. The film is simply stunning to watch on the big screen. Meanwhile those Dutch angles the director has always been a fan of using in these movies, well, they finally make sense here!

Something wicked this way comes...

a haunting in venice

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

Perhaps most crucially, though, it presents Poirot with a new challenge, something he has never faced before, throwing both him and the audience into the unknown. He walks into the séance as a non-believer being cynical about Michelle Yeoh’s medium and the supernatural legends the ensemble cast of characters speak of. However, as Poirot begins to encounter ghosts and experiences strange going-ons, he starts to doubt both his beliefs and his own abilities. That stubborn, confident streak of his starts to break down, and for the first time we are unsure if he will be able to solve this mystery. 

After decades of Poirot mysteries, exploring this new territory is exactly what was needed to put a fresh spin on the beloved character. As executive producer James Prichard, who also happens to be Christie’s great-grandson, told Total Film earlier this year, you just "can’t do the same thing over and over again". Whilst the general rule of ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ might have been the easiest road for the filmmakers, a bold new direction would surprise audiences more.

It also helps A Haunting In Venice stand out amongst the crowded murder mystery market simply by doing something different. Whilst there are plenty of examples of horror movies that feature a murder mystery, for example the Scream and Happy Death Day films, not many detective dramas will be hoping to send a supernatural chill down your spine. It’s important to note that Branagh’s film isn’t strictly a horror, which may leave that genre’s fans disappointed (although my cowardly friend sitting next to me did jump out of his seat upon the appearance of a ghost), but it is definitely horror-adjacent.

Whether any future chapters will continue to explore the supernatural remains to be seen, but hopefully Branagh will learn the right lessons from this spooky treat that Poirot and ghosts are a match made in Halloweeny heaven.

A Haunting In Venice is out in cinemas now. For everything else the year has in store, check out our guide to all of 2023's upcoming major movie release dates 

Emily Murray
Entertainment Editor

As Entertainment Editor at GamesRadar, I oversee all the online content for Total Film and SFX magazine. Previously I've worked for the BBC, Zavvi, UNILAD, Yahoo, Digital Spy and more.