September 22, 2023 – This combination murder mystery and ghost story is very loosely based on Agatha Christie's novel “Hallowe'en Party” (1969). As usual in Agatha Christie stories there are several murders among a group of people (most of whom are possible suspects) trapped together in a creepy setting. In this case, the setting is a haunted house in Venice on a dark and stormy night.
The great Christie detective Hercule Poirot (played by Kenneth Branagh, who also directs this film) is lured out of retirement to debunk a spiritualist, Joyce Reynolds (played by Michele Yeoh of “Everything Everywhere all at Once”) during a seance at a haunted house in Venice on Halloween.
The purpose of the seance is to contact the spirit of the departed daughter of opera singer Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly of “Calvary”) who committed suicide a year earlier. Drake's palazzo, where the seance is to be held, is a former orphanage with a tragic past. It is said to be haunted by the ghosts of children left to perish in the building during the bubonic plague.
Poirot suspects that Drake's daughter, Alicia (Rowan Robinson) did not commit suicide after all, but was, in fact murdered. A series of baffling murders happens during the night. Poirot himself begins to see ghosts, and is falling under the spell of the house, but he is not the sort to be fooled by cheap seance tricks, nor is he stumped by a murder in a locked room that seems impossible.
The movie employs a number of horror film devices, like sudden, loud noises to startle viewers. There are also ghostly apparitions, and the murders fall in line with the ghost stories associated with this building. Outside, a wild storm rages, keeping the police away, and the building is locked, trapping everyone.
In addition to Poirot, Reynolds and Drake, others trapped in the building during the murder spree include a mystery writer who lures Poirot to the seance for her own purposes, Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey of “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot”) Poirot's bodyguard, Vitale Portfoglio (Riccardo Scamarcio of “John Wick: Chapter 2”) the psychologically damaged Dr. Leslie Ferrier (Jamie Dornan of “Belfast”) and his creepy, precocious son, Leopold (Jude Hill of “Belfast”). Others include Reynolds' helpers, Desdemona (Emma Laird) and Nicholas Holland (Ali Khan) and Drake's housekeeper, Olga Seminoff (Camille Cottin of “Stillwater”).
There is so much skulking around in the dark, that the plot seems confusing, but it is all explained in the end, and even in the midst of all the ghosts and mysterious murders, it seems pretty obvious who among these characters is, and who is not, a genuine suspect. I like a good murder mystery (“Knives Out” comes to mind) but I have little patience for horror films (with a few exceptions, like “Nanny” and “The Invisible Man”).
When all the characters in a murder mystery are annoying, one loses interest in finding out who the killer really is. This movie scared me a little and annoyed me a lot. It rates a C.
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