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The Antelope

The Antelope

‘A Haunting in Venice’ confronts life and death


Directed by Kenneth Branagh and released on Sept. 15, “A Haunting in Venice” is a loose retelling and adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1969 novel “Hallowe’en Party.” The film also comes as a sequel to two of Branagh’s previous works adapting celebrated novels by Agatha Christie: “Murder on the Orient Express” (2017) and “Death on the Nile” (2022)

Set in Venice, Italy in 1947 the film is a striking piece of cinematography. The visuals are beautiful, elaborate and extremely elegant. Because of the director’s stylistic decisions, the product is reminiscent of lavish old-fashioned Hollywood entertainment. The film takes the direction of embracing the Halloween theme following the conventions of the traditional detective story. It pushes toward becoming a full-blown haunted house thriller with an atmospheric Venetian background and shots of gondolas and canals at sunset.

Branagh, who is both the director and the protagonist in this film, reprises his role as charming Hercule Poirot – a brooding Belgian detective who is struggling with decline and is visibly scarred from his profession. A famous opera singer named Rowena Drake is hosting a lavish Halloween Party in her magnificent palazzo. Rowena wants to contact her dead daughter which leads her to have a medium perform a séance at the end of the night. 

Poirot is invited to the event by his longtime American friend, Ariadne Oliver. The sharp-tongued mystery novelist is played with snappy wit by Tina Fey. In attendance at the event is Leslie Ferrier, an emotionally broken doctor suffering from psychological trauma and played by Jamie Dornan.

The star of the show is Academy Award winner Michelle Yeoh, who plays the entrancing medium Mrs. Reynolds. Mrs. Reynolds performs a séance, hoping to contact the spirit of the opera singer’s daughter, who died under mysterious circumstances at the palazzo a year earlier. Soon after this, one of the party guests turns up murdered. While Poirot is officially retired, he decides to take on the case. 

What gives the story its deeper resonance is its potent sense of time and place. It takes place just two years after the end of World War II, and many of the suspects have witnessed unspeakable horrors. The medium was a nurse during the war, which may account for why she feels such an affinity for the dead. Everyone, from the grieving opera singer to the doctor traumatized by his memories, seems to be mourning some kind of loss.

Earlier in the film, we find out the palazzo is rumored to be haunted by the vengeful ghosts of children who died there years ago during an outbreak of the plague. Branagh piles on the freaky visuals and jolting sound effects, to the point where even a supreme skeptic like Poirot begins to question what’s going on. These horror elements may be unabashedly creaky and derivative, but they work because the movie embraces them to the hilt. The film is an intelligent piece of work that holds a lot of respect for Christie’s work, despite deciding to give it a new twist. 

I would highly recommend that everyone visit their local theaters as soon as they get a chance. “A Haunting in Venice” is a film everyone could enjoy, and it’s currently being shown at Kearney Cinema 8 and Hilltop Cinema in town.

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