Loosely based on Agatha Christie’s 1969 novel Hallowe’en Party, Branagh’s adaptation is set in Venice, at the haunted palazzo of famous opera singer Rowena Drake. We meet Poirot in his self-inflicted exile, refusing to take on any new cases. However, when old friend and author Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey) arrives, her invitation to investigate a séance hosted at the haunted palazzo on Halloween night cannot be ignored by the man whose religion is science and logic.
However, the séance intended to communicate with Drake’s recently deceased daughter Alicia, takes a turn when the medium, played by Academy Award winner Michelle Yeoh is found dead.
Suddenly the film transitions into a horror style, as the practicality and control that Poirot is known for, is replaced by jump scares, hysteria, and visions of the dead.
The haunting is not just physical, as we see Jamie Dornan’s beautiful yet heart-breaking portrayal of a doctor deeply affected by his experience in the war. The haunting is no longer just in Venice, but is present within each character, as revelations unravel to show the psychological trauma connected to Alicia’s supposed unexplained death.
Throughout the film, the underlying story of the dead children that haunt the palazzo is used as the only logical explanation for all the deaths. In moments, we see flickers where even Poirot doubts his faith in reason and rationality, succumbing to the supernatural. This marks a huge shift away from the previous two films in Branagh’s franchise, as Poirot is no longer portrayed as an omniscient figure, superior to the other characters. Instead, he is humanised, shown to experience fear and doubt that we all can recognise.
With a rating of 76% on Rotten Tomatoes, I think it is fair to say that audiences enjoyed this change in Poirot’s character, making him more relatable and allowing us to connect to him in a way we haven’t previously been able to.
Branagh perfectly crafts a unique and refreshing twist to this film, whilst creating a crescendo and ensemble work that firmly returns this masterpiece to Agatha Christie’s roots.
Undeniably, the highly talented cast stood out with their individual performances. I still feel moved by the relationship between Dornan’s character and his young son, who is solely responsible for supporting his haunted father. Yet, beyond these performances, what we recognise at the heart of all Agatha Christie’s ‘who dunnits’ are the scenes laced with distrust and paranoia, ultimately making Poirot’s end revelation that much more captivating and shocking.
It is not very often that you can be fully immersed in a story these days, however this film absolutely captivated me. Michael Green’s screenplay was utterly gripping, and in combination with Branagh’s direction, I have no doubt that this film has firmly placed itself as a modern classic.