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The DePaulia

The Student News Site of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student News Site of DePaul University

The DePaulia

Scarier than expected, Kenneth Branagh charts a new path for Poirot in “A Haunting in Venice”

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“A Haunting in Venice,” a film based on one of Agatha Christie’s lesser-known novels, debuted Sept. 15, on what would have been the famed writer’s 133rd birthday. While Christie’s 1969 book “Hallowe’en Party” inspires “A Haunting in Venice,” the film is not a faithful adaptation. Instead, producer and director Kenneth Branagh, working with a screenplay by Michael Green, created a movie so dark and ominous audiences may feel duped into seeing a horror film.

Branagh reprised the role of Christie’s famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, a role that seems to be somewhat of a pet project for him. Branagh previously directed and starred in two other Poirot films, “Murder on the Orient Express” and “Death on the Nile.” 

“A Haunting in Venice” finds Poirot retired and living alone in Venice post-World War II. While Venice is the story’s setting, the city also feels like it is playing a role in the film. It will be hard for audiences not to feel as if they are sitting alongside the characters, slowly traveling in the rain through foggy canals on Venetian gondolas while an accordion plays “Meet Me in St. Louis” in the background. 

As the movie unfolds, viewers find Poirot enjoying a solitary life in retirement. The detective is protected from the Venice masses, who are desperate for his investigative help, by an assuredly tough bodyguard played by Italian actor Riccardo Scamarcio. The only person able to gain access to Poirot is an old friend, Ariadne Oliver. Oliver, played by Tina Fey, has a longstanding professional relationship with Poirot, having used his likeness in her novels. Poirot’s retirement has contributed to Oliver’s writer’s block, and she seeks him out to fix that. Playing a convincing 1940s crime novelist throughout most of the film, Fey offers a few instances of witty banter, showcasing her comedy chops.

Oliver cleverly convinces a reluctant Poirot to attend an All Hallows’ Eve party at the nearby palazzo of retired opera singer Rowena Drake, played by Kelly Reilly. After the party, there will be a séance led by famous medium Joyce Reynolds, played by Michelle Yeoh. Oliver hopes  Poirot will attend the séance and prove that Reynolds is faking her psychic gift. However, Reynolds has her otherworldly work cut out for her as the palazzo is the scene of much death and heartbreak. The opera singer’s own daughter tragically lost her life there only a year ago.

Oliver and Poirot arrive at the palazzo, bodyguard in tow, to find it filled with masked children and hooded figures reveling in Halloween festivities. Events unfold that force Poirot to interrupt his retirement for the evening to solve a terrifying mystery or three.

Each character Poirot meets has a name that connects them to “Hallowe’en Party.” Christie devotees may recognize more similarities between the characters and their namesakes, which will not be named here to avoid spoilers.

“A Haunting in Venice” serves as a vehicle for Branagh to step away from the playful tone he employed before. The overall mood of the film is unsettling with many unexpected and eerie jump scares. Wide-angled shots and fish-eyed lenses are used effectively to disorient the viewer in a way not seen in Branagh’s first two Poirot movies.

The film is also an opportunity for Branagh to reunite with castmates from one of his previous films. Jaime Doran and Jude Hill are fellow Northern Irish actors whom Branagh enlisted to play father and son in his award-winning semi-autobiographical 2021 film “Belfast.” Doran and Hill play father and son again, bringing the same emotional connection to “A Haunting in Venice,” with a decidedly more sinister tone.

“A Haunting in Venice” is a perfect movie for anyone wanting to spend an intense 103 minutes solving a heartbreaking and sometimes terrifying mystery. A scene of Poirot standing in his Italian garden with bags tied over his shoes will reassure skeptics that, though he may be branching out from the novels, Branagh’s Poirot is still (and will always be) Christie’s Poirot.

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