In the shadowed labyrinth of post-war Venice, where faith in both God and humanity seems to have waned, “A Haunting in Venice” transports us into a world brimming with intrigue and mystique. Helmed by the acclaimed Kenneth Branagh, who expertly reprises his role as the legendary Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, this 2023 American murder mystery serves as a captivating sequel to “Death on the Nile.” The screenplay, skillfully crafted by the talented Michael Green, takes inspiration from Agatha Christie‘s timeless 1969 novel, “Hallowe’en Party.”
Branagh leads an exceptional ensemble cast, including Kyle Allen, Camille Cottin, Jamie Dornan, Tina Fey, Jude Hill, Ali Khan, Emma Laird, Kelly Reilly, Riccardo Scamarcio, and Michelle Yeoh. Together, they weave a web of suspense and complexity that captivates from start to finish.
Set against the backdrop of Venice’s grandeur, the film opens with Poirot in retirement, grappling with a world that has lost its luster. His only company is Vitale Portfoglio, an ex-police officer turned bodyguard. However, on a fateful Halloween night, the enigmatic novelist Ariadne Oliver persuades Poirot to attend a séance at the palatial residence of opera singer Rowena Drake. Their mission: to expose the medium, Joyce Reynolds, as a charlatan.
Rowena’s desire to commune with her deceased daughter, Alicia, adds an air of melancholy to the gathering. Alicia’s tragic demise, following a broken engagement to chef Maxime Gerard, haunts Rowena’s every step. As the séance unfolds, Poirot’s keen intellect uncovers secrets lurking in the shadows, revealing more than one hidden agenda.
In a twist of fate, Reynolds herself is found impaled on a statue in the palazzo’s courtyard, severed from this world in a macabre manner. With a tempest raging outside, Poirot embarks on a journey of interrogation and discovery, all the while haunted by the specter of Alicia.
As Poirot delves deeper into the lives of the guests, a series of perplexing revelations emerge. Leslie Ferrier, the family doctor, carries the scars of his traumatic experiences during the liberation of Bergen-Belsen. Leopold, his son, hears the haunting whispers of children who met their demise in the palazzo’s dark history as an orphanage.
A web of conspiracies unfurls as Oliver and Vitale are exposed for their involvement with Reynolds. Nicholas and Desdemona, Romani refugees, reveal their plan to escape with stolen riches to St. Louis, Missouri.
The startling discovery of an underground chamber, housing the skeletal remains of forgotten children from the palazzo’s grim past as a plague hospital, pushes Leslie over the edge, leading to a shocking act of violence.
In a climactic moment, Poirot gathers the guests, unveiling the chilling truth. Alicia fell victim to a poisoned hallucinogenic drug hidden in Rowena’s honey. A mother’s obsession to keep her daughter by her side drove her to commit this heinous act. Rowena’s elaborate ruse to explain the murders as a curse of the palazzo finally unravels.
As dawn breaks over Venice, Poirot parts ways with Oliver and chooses not to expose Vitale’s role in the séance. Olga steps forward to adopt the orphaned Leopold, who reveals the poison’s link to Rowena’s past role as Aspasia in “Mitridate, re di Ponto,” a character known as the ‘king of poisons.’ Poirot implores them to use the stolen money to help Nicholas and Desdemona begin anew in Missouri, a gesture that starts to restore his faith in humanity.
“A Haunting in Venice” is a mesmerizing tapestry of mystery, intrigue, and redemption, a film that reaffirms the enduring allure of Agatha Christie‘s timeless detective. Branagh’s portrayal of Hercule Poirot is as captivating as ever, and the film’s haunting atmosphere lingers long after the credits roll. It beckons us to ponder the depths of human nature and the haunting echoes of the past that can shape our future.