‘A Haunting in Venice’ takes viewers on a thrilling, mysterious ride

A Haunting in Venice
Pictured are Tina Fey as Ariadne Oliver and Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot in ‘A Haunting in Venice’.
Rob Youngson / 2023 20th Century Studios

By María Estévez, MWN 

Kenneth Branagh reprises his superb portrayal of Hercule Poirot in the film ‘A Haunting in Venice,’ based on Agatha Christie’s novel ‘Hallowe’en Party.’ Branagh directs and stars in a film with the character at the center of the plot for the third time after ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ (2017) and ‘Death on the Nile’ (2022).

A Haunting in Venice‘ is based on Agatha Christie’s ‘Hallowe’en Party,’ but screenwriter Michael Green, along with Branagh, relocated the story from the English countryside to Venice, adding a supernatural twist as Poirot, now retired, reluctantly attends a seance gone wrong.

Interestingly, Branagh’s previous film, the semi-autobiographical ‘Belfast,’ which won him an Oscar for best original screenplay, included a Christmas Day scene in which the character Caitríona Balfe receives Agatha Christie’s novel ‘Hallowe’en Party’ as a gift.

“I’ve always loved ‘Hallowe’en Party.’ My mother was a big Agatha Christie fan, so I decided to include the book in ‘Belfast.’ In this case, we chose a supernatural thriller in Venice because it provides a different atmosphere, less gothic but equally exotic,” the British director, screenwriter, and actor revealed.

After winning the Oscar for best screenplay with ‘Belfast,’ Branagh continues to incorporate elements of his mother into his work.

“My mother had a reading habit; she loved Agatha Christie’s thrillers, including this work. She introduced me to her novels,” he said.

In this gloomy Venetian palazzo, a mystery unfolds, and, akin to the game of Cluedo, there are numerous suspects in this new Poirot film. James Prichard, great-grandson of Agatha Christie and producer of the film, has the final word:

“We like to surprise people, and I hope this one will do so pleasantly. It’s essentially a fictional story that plays with suspense and horror genres. I think it all works, and I’m convinced that fans will be pleasantly surprised when they see the film.”

Poirot has always been an eccentric character with an obsessive compulsion for detail.

“That’s part of his personality. His talent is intertwined with his quirks; otherwise, he would descend into chaos. For him, lacking balance is a problem. His relationship with crime and solving mysteries arises from his own obsessions. He knows it minimizes the chances of criminals. Poirot is a man with a highly developed primal instinct,” Branagh explained.

Joyce Reynolds, played by Oscar-winning Chinese actress Michelle Yeoh, is a well-known psychic who is invited to a Halloween séance at Rowena Drake’s palace. Like Poirot, she possesses a sensitive spirit and has witnessed the atrocities of war while working as a battlefield nurse. Branagh couldn’t help but shower praise on Yeoh.

Rob Youngson / 2023 20th Century Studios

“I like the entire cast. I was pleased with all the actors, but Michelle is another example of someone who brings depth and humanity to a role that might otherwise remain superficial,” admitted the Irish filmmaker.

“Michelle is a walking mystery, so in terms of enigma, she brings that quality to Joyce Reynolds that captures the audience’s attention from the moment she appears,” Branagh said. 

In this new enigma for Poirot, the character finds himself in a very dark place after losing hope in humanity due to the immense number of crimes he has witnessed. Despite being a broken man, the detective decides to come out of retirement and investigate the disappearance of a young girl.

“With Agatha Christie’s works, it is possible to create another version, to initiate a different conversation from the plot, and to scare people by transforming suspense into terror. I hope I have succeeded,” the director said.

The film is set on the night of Oct. 31, 1947, and brings together all the ghosts of Halloween in a story that is already inherently terrifying.

“Our goal was to present something different. Poirot will be forced to confront ghosts throughout this long, dark night. Venice is a trap for the detective and a place where the audience comes to be entertained and frightened,” Branagh stated.

Filming for the movie took place from October to December 2022 at Pinewood Studios outside London and in Venice for several weeks in January 2023. Venice, in northern Italy, is renowned for its impressive Renaissance and Gothic palaces, or palazzos, and its beautiful canals along the Adriatic Sea. If we saw Poirot trapped on a train and a boat with murderers before, the new setting for the third entry in the series works on another level.

“I am drawn to stories that reflect human nature. Nothing is purely black and white, especially in relationships. I don’t believe in moral absolutism at all; on the contrary, I believe that drama arises when we question our existence and our actions when good people commit irresponsible acts due to their circumstances. In this sense, Poirot is portrayed as a man consumed by his need to control the minimalist spaces in which he exists, and he does so intuitively,” Branagh said.

The film is also a tribute to Christie.

“For me, it’s always a pleasure to read Agatha Christie and to delve into her mind and her world. I love her elegant style and her mise-en-scène. I go back to my parents. They taught me that no one is above or below you. They raised me in an egalitarian society, and I apply that idea to literature. There’s no reason to be intimidated by the classics. I enjoy adapting complex stories and simplifying them in a practical and entertaining way for film. For me, it’s a privilege and a joy to make these kinds of films.”

A Haunting in Venice‘ is now showing in theaters.