A Haunting in Venice (Christian Movie Review)
About The Movie
Murder! A Haunting in Venice is the latest Agatha Christie-inspired murder mystery, following Murder on the Orient Express (2017) and Death on the Nile (2022). Kenneth Branagh once again does double duty as the director and the film’s lead, portraying the brilliant but quirky detective Hercule Poriot (his immaculate mustache thankfully makes a return as well). Unlike Rian Johnson’s popular Knives Out films, which took a contemporary approach, there is something refreshing about Branagh’s more classic handling of the “whodunit” genre. Overall, A Haunting in Venice is a solid, well-crafted, entertaining film bolstered by a strong cast, an immersive, atmospheric tone, and an intriguing mystery. Perhaps most surprising of all, it also offers a fascinating exploration of faith and spirituality.
Every aspect of the film ranges from “fine” to “good” without ever elevating or plummeting into either end of the spectrum. There’s no show-stopping scenes or standout characters. On the other hand, there are no glaring signs of poor execution. Everything lands comfortably in the middle. The acting is good, the cinematography and direction is adequate, the atmosphere is effectively spooky, and the mystery is engaging.
A characteristic that differentiates this film from the previous entries is its darker atmosphere and gothic aesthetic. The story takes place on All Hallow’s Eve in an eerie mansion believed to be haunted by the souls of vengeful children. The inciting incident involves an attempt to conduct a séance so a grieving mother can commune with her daughter, who tragically died. Some Christian audiences may find these framing elements undesirable (although, without delving into spoilers, not all is as it initially seems). Nevertheless, the movie is not a horror film. There are several jump scares and frightening images that set the mood, but they never become the focus. Rather, they merely add a gloomy and melancholy backdrop to the mystery.
Speaking of the mystery, the slowly unraveling plot is methodically paced but consistently engaging, even if the film does not provide audiences with enough information to crack the code on their own. Various clues and moments are established as having clear significance, but audiences will mostly sit passively by while Poirot solves the case (although, admittedly, I’m not the type of viewer who normally spots twists ahead of time!).
As has been the case with the earlier films, A Haunting in Venice has assembled an impressive roster of talented actors and actresses. Kenneth Branagh is once again excellent as Poirot. He is endearingly quirky but also able to communicate subtle emotional depth that humanizes a character that might otherwise appear almost cartoonish. Tina Fey makes her first appearance as a detective-story writer and longtime friend of Poirot’s, adding some needed levity to the story. The other standout is Michelle Yeoh in the film’s most mysterious and enigmatic role.
Due to its subject matter, it seems inexplicable that this movie was not released closer to Halloween. Still, A Haunting in Venice is the epitome of a September movie. It lacks the bombastic spectacle of a summer popcorn flick. Instead, it is an engaging character drama and a refreshing throwback to the often-neglected murder mystery genre. While the horror and occultist elements may be enough to spook some Christian audiences away, its intriguing exploration spiritual themes and faith and God will provide viewers fodder for thought.
Engage The Film
A welcome surprise in the movie is how central and frequent discussions of God and faith are. Poirot is invited to attend the séance and investigates the “medium” with the expectation of exposing her as a fraud. What becomes clear, however, is that the deeper investigation is existence of spiritual realities at all. The mystery is not just of a death but of life after death.
In the Agatha Christie stories, Poirot is a practicing Catholic. In A Haunting in Venice, however, he has lost whatever faith he once had and is an atheistic skeptic. When asked, “You don’t believe in the soul’s endurance after death?” He responds, “I have lost my faith.” “How sad for you,” replies the asker. Poirot agrees: “Yes, it is most sad. The truth is sad.”
Thus, to prove that the ghost of the girl is haunting the house is to prove the existence of a soul, which to Poirot’s mind is to reveal that there is a God who created that soul. He is not angry at religion or belief. Rather, he is disappointed in his inability to accept it. He wants to believe, but his keen rational mind raises too many objections. At one point, when he has begun to experience incidences he cannot explain, he remarks that he has allowed his perception to outpace his rational faculties.
The central question the film raises is, “How do we interpret experiences around us that we cannot fully explain, and at what point must we simply have faith in something beyond our understanding?” Various characters wrestle with similar questions in their own way. A Haunting in Venice is not a faith-based story with a triumphant Christian conversion at the end. Poirot remains skeptical, but with a hint of openness to the supernatural. Christians may differ on whether the film ultimately affirms faith or discredits it, but the theme itself is valuable and one that is fascinating to find in a mainstream Hollywood film.
Another recurrent theme is grief. Most of the “suspects” trapped in the house are in various stages of the grieving process. They are dealing with the fallout of horrors of their past, painful mistakes, loss, and regret. As Poirot remarks at the end of the film, whether dealing with real supernatural ghosts or not, the fact is that everyone must eventually confront the ghosts of their past.