After a brief theatrical release, the Kenneth Branagh-directed/led A Haunting in Venice is set to come home. First, home viewers can find it on digital and streaming on Hulu beginning Halloween 2023 and then on physical formats November 28th. This time adapting Agatha Christie’s Hallowe’en Party, Branagh and returning scribe Michael Green (Murder on the Orient Express; Death on the Nile) find themselves completing a full trilogy in which Christie’s famous detective Hercule Poirot goes from examining the complexity of the morality in the first film to questioning whether there’s something after life to the latest. By imbuing Poirot with a backstory that includes two World Wars, Branagh and Green are able to make time, place, and person intersect into a compelling mystery first and exploration of an existential crisis second. Aided by a 26-minute featurette and 11 deleted scenes, there’s plenty to explore on the home release that will be sure to enlighten audiences for future watches.
Post-World War II Venice, Italy, and Hercule Poirot (Branagh) is formally retired. He spends his days eating desserts, tending to his garden, and otherwise doing all he can to avoid interacting with people. This includes hiring former police officer Vitale Portfoglio (Riccardo Scamarcio) to act as bodyguard/go-between, ensuring his tranquility. Except all the preventative measures cannot save Poirot from an existential dread that stirs him awake in the middle of the night. So much so that when an old friend, author Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey), arrives on his doorstep asking him to help solve the riddle of a reportedly authentic medium, Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh), he finds himself compelled to join Ariadne at the reading. However, what is already a tragic night turns moreso as bodies start to drop and the only person skilled enough to prevent it is Poirot. But when he starts to see things that aren’t there, can he possibly rationalize that away or is it a sign of something even larger than reason?
If you’re interested in learning about A Haunting in Venice in a spoiler-free capacity, head over to the initial theatrical release review. Moving forward, the curtain will be pulled back on this particular supernatural mystery, with no hesitation to reveal its secrets.
Let’s begin with the home release before delving into a few thoughts on the film.
First, it’s been confirmed that 20th Century Studios is going to release a physical edition (only Blu-ray and DVD, so far) in November, with the digital and streaming edition having dropped first on Halloween 2023. Compared to the last Poirot film, at first glance, one might think the home release offers less as it only includes one extended featurette and eight deleted scenes compared to four featurettes. However, though there is only one (titled “Murder, Death and Haunting”), it is nearly only about a 12-minute difference between the one and the four. In this one featurette, the audience is offered insight into how the producers got to Green and then to Branagh (as actor and director), what the crew think about Haunting as they relate to the prior two films, performance, staging, costumes, and more. It’s always fascinating to see how an actor behaves as director (and Branagh has put in his time as director to be considered more than trustworthy in the chair), so getting the chance to see him on set working with his cast, hearing the cast talk about Branagh’s style, it makes the interactions and performances we see take on a different shape, specifically in the staging of the reading scene that Yeoh executes as Reynolds, which is almost entirely unscripted. Learning how they shot that sequence makes what we get on screen even more evocative and impressive. The deleted scenes, however, are less interesting and it quickly becomes clear, especially in their brevity, why they hit the floor.
Having not read the source material, I can’t speak to any liberties that Green may be taking in order to build out Poirot’s backstory. However, with Death, the audience gets a glimpse of the detective’s World War I experience, which sets up a bit of subtext for why he’s on vacation. This is the foundation for where we pick up with him in 1947, where the weight of his past, having survived two world wars, where everywhere he goes, his task is to sort through the worst moment of a person’s life in order to uncover how and why they died — it transcends subtext into text. This is, to me, why Haunting is effective; where everyone else has an angle, everyone wants something and he’s exhausted by it. The solving of this mystery isn’t about whether Poirot can solve it and bring about justice, but about whether he can remember that there’s joy to be found in helping others, in preserving life where you can, and how if all the good you can do in your life is save one life, then you’ve done better than most. Especially as the motive for why Poirot is at the séance is discovered, one can start to realize how each guest represents some aspect of humanity that Poirot is struggling with. There’s certainly drama in the motives of the people working with Reynolds, why Portfoglio works with Poirot, and all the other little details of the characters we meet – some are selfish, some nefarious, some are trying to survive, and to be with the one’s they love – but one does begin to realize why the bulk of the film is shot in close-up on Poirot: we’re diving into him at every available moment. They are the things that stir him in the night, death lingering so profoundly as to take space in his mind and to create within him an isolation he forces upon his waking life. Trapped inside a Venetian palazzo with a murderer afoot is exactly what he needs to recognize his depression and the way out of it. This, of course, doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s an interesting enough shift from the style of Death to make one feel invigorated in the watch.
If nothing else, the Poirot adaptations by Branagh and Green have yet to wear out their welcome and, based on the featurette, the crew have yet to lose their vigor for them either. It’s not enough to drop the detective into a space, to find clues, and interrogate suspects,. There needs to be more in order for the natural drama to be *about* something. This is why Christie’s stories resonate in time, why modern storytellers go back to them (and others like them) in either straight adaptations or treating them as muses for their own (See How They Run (2022); the Knives Out series). More than that, there’s a shift in the direction, production design, and cinematography so that Haunting is more than just another Halloween story, it’s an examination of faith, failure, and control, all of which consume us in some form or another. This is what makes Haunting loiter in our minds post-watch. It’s more than a romp of blood-letting and betrayals, it asks its audience to do more than observe and to question these things that Poirot wrestles with within himself. The answer you find is unique to you and is bound to surprise.
A Haunting in Venice Special Features*:
- Murder, Death and Haunting: Discover the secrets behind the scenes of A Haunting in Venice. Join Kenneth Branagh and his team as they bring Agatha Christie’s classic Poirot novel Hallowe’en Party to life with elaborate ensemble scenes and extravagant sets. (26:09)
- Eleven (11) Deleted Scenes (8:33)
*Bonus features may change based on retailer
Available on digital and Hulu October 31st, 2023.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD November 28th, 2023.
For more information, head to the 20th Century Studio A Haunting in Venice webpage.
This piece was written during the SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.