Movie Review: Hercule Poirot Overcomes the Ghosts of His Past in A Haunting in Venice’s Suspenseful Atmosphere

Movie Review: Hercule Poirot Overcomes the Ghosts of His Past in A Haunting in Venice’s Suspenseful Atmosphere

The most timeless, classic crime thrillers are those that possess the ability to highlight their characters’ humanity in all situations, even the most dangerous or criminal ones. Agatha Christie became the most widely published author of all time in part because of her innate ability to show empathy to all of her characters, no matter what circumstance they found themselves in. That compassion is extended to the diverse range of characters in the upcoming supernatural movie, A Haunting in Venice.

The horror film was penned by screenwriter Michael Green, who based the script on Christie’s 1969 novel, Hallowe’en Party. The movie is the third entry in the current screen adaptation series about beloved Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. The Oscar-nominated scribe also penned the screenplays for the series’ first two installments, 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express and last year’s Death on the Nile.

Kenneth Branagh directed, and also served as a producer alongside Ridley Scott, on A Haunting in Venice. The duo reunited for the drama after Branagh also helmed, and the duo also  produced, the feature’s two predecessors.

A Haunting in Venice is set on Hallows’ Eve in the eerily sinister titular in the years following World War II. Celebrated detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) is now living in self-imposed exile in the titular Italian city, after he retired from his stressful career.

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Poirot has left behind his experiences in crime and investigation after living through another world war, which has caused him to lose his hope and faith in humanity.

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He spends his time doing everything he can to avoid thinking about crime, but crime finds its way back to him.

Poirot receives a visit from an old friend, the world’s number one mystery writer, Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey), who has something she wants to show him. She promises the former detective her proposition doesn’t involve a crime. She instead wants him to join her at a séance and help her prove that it isn’t real.

Despite his better judgment, Poirot finds himself intrigued. So he reluctantly agrees to attend the séance led by purported psychic medium, Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh), at a decaying, haunted palazzo owned by famed opera singer Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly). When one of the guests is murdered, the remaining guests in attendance are all considered suspects, which once again leads the Belgian detective into a sinister world of shadows and secrets.

In Branagh and his fellow filmmakers’ typical style of their screen adaptations of Christie’s novels, A Haunting in Venice showcases the true humanity of Poirot and his fellow guests at Rowena’s Halloween party during their time together. The characters are presented as timeless, classic archetypes who are all struggling with their harrowing circumstances in subtle, universal ways. Overall, the Oscar-nominated Green perfectly balance paying tribute to Christie’s depictions of Poirot and his fellow guests with unique personality traits that make the characters fully developed.

The screenwriter’s draft is also universal to contemporary society for the slight changes it makes to the movie’s characters, particularly the protagonist. While Christie didn’t fully explore Poirot’s psychological state in Hallowe’en Party, Green’s script digs far deeper into the character’s background, including why he became the detective the world came to love.

In Branagh’s best performance as Poirot, the Academy Award-winning filmmaker shows that his character is still quick-witted and charmingly self-deprecating. But he’s also become increasingly haunted by not only the spirits of his past, especially all the death he has witnessed, but also his beliefs and decisions.

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© 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

The ghosts of not only his past, but also those he starts to believe are lurking in Rowena’s palazzo, emphasize that his life has become very difficult to live. Since the events that took place during Death on the Nile, Poirot has become traumatized by the event of the harrowing second world war in-between.

A Haunting in Venice‘s story is also engaging as it follows Poirot as he explores what he thinks he believes in, as well as his struggle to determine whether what he sees is real. The protagonist’s constant need to self-examine his circumstances throughout the party and its subsequent murder investigation humanizes the sleuth, who finally shares his vulnerabilities as he searches for meaning in the world around him.

The thriller also succeeds in telling its story, which is driven in part by the characters’ contemplation of their moral quandry, though its lavish production design. The movie transports the book’s setting from England to the seemingly picturesque Venice, where the characters are trapped in a beautiful but claustrophobic haunted palazzo on a stormy night.

A Haunting in Venice, whose shoot took place at Pinewood Studios outside London and the eponymous Italian city, brought the palazzo to life with the help of production designer John Paul Kelly. Inspired by such early horror films as The Old Dark House and Black Narcissus, Branagh and Kelly created a unique main location for the upcoming feature.

Traveling to Venice to study palazzos and their architectural layout, the filmmakers built a perfect replica of a classic Venetian palazzo at Pinewood Studios. Rowena’s Italian home adds a brooding nature to the story by featuring elegant chandeliers that drop to the floor during dramatic moments. That tension intensifies when doors mysteriously swing open on their own, and water pours down walls during dangerous storms outside in the famous Venetian canals.

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The drama’s palazzo set is beautifully showcased on screen by the work of director of photography Haris Zambarloukos.

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He previously worked wih Branagh on the Oscar-winning 2021 coming-of-age drama, Belfast.

Zambarloukos lit the film naturally, only  using the set’s available light, which was practical light. With the majority of the story being set at night, the minimal natural ambient light that shone through the windows created multiple menacing dark shadows. Those shadows, combined with the actors continuously walking in and out of dark shadows, helped magnify the story’s fierce, intense environment.

Like Branagh’s two previous film adaptions of Christie’s popular novels featuring the intelligent but at times aloof Poirot, A Haunting in Venice stunningly explores the human condition. The director-actor once again enthrallingly explores why people make selfish decisions in the name of such vices as love, greed and power, without any regard to the cruel consequences they have on other people, in his latest portrayal of Poirot.

In his third turn directing, producing and playing the celebrated Belgian detective of Poirot in an emotionally intense, visually stunning film, Branagh crafted another timeless, classic crime thriller with A Haunting in Venice. The movie possesses the ability to highlight the sleuthing protagonist and his fellow characters’ humanity in all situations, even the most dangerous or criminal ones. Combined with ‘s dazzling design of the haunting Venetian palazzo and Zambarloukos’ atmospheric lighting, the film is another captivating screen adaptation of Christie’s exploration into humanity’s true nature.

Overall: A-

20th Century Studios is releasing A Haunting in Venice in theaters this Friday, September 15.

Check out more of Karen Benardello’s articles.

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