Hercule Poirot is once again back on the screen with Kenneth Branagh’s latest cinematic adaptation of Agatha Christie’s detective, A Haunting in Venice. Very loosely based on Christie’s Poirot novel Hallowe’en Party, the film presents the detective in a rather suspiciously supernatural setting in the picturesque city of Venice when he is invited to a private séance party. Although A Haunting in Venice is not as brain-racking as any complex whodunit, the film definitely brings a charm through its visuals and techniques, making it a fairly enjoyable watch.
Plot Summary: What Is The Film about?
A Haunting in Venice takes place a few years after Branagh’s last Poirot film, Death on the Nile, and the mustached detective Hercule Poirot has retired from his profession. The year is 1947, and Poirot has settled in the beautiful city of Venice, tending to his elaborate garden and staying completely away from any criminal cases. Knowing that a man of such extraordinary detective skills is now living a life of retirement in the city, numerous men and women form queues in front of his house, hoping that he will help solve some mysterious situation in their lives. On this particular occasion, too, as Poirot leaves his home to handpick his favorite eggs from the market, a long line of people almost chases him around. It is for this particular reason that he has also appointed a man named Vitale Portfoglio as his personal bodyguard, and like every other time, Vitale keeps the admirers and interested clients away from the detective.
Later that day, Vitale informs Poirot of a certain woman claiming to be his friend and wanting to meet him at his house. The protagonist is confused, as he self-admittedly has no friends, until the bodyguard shows him an apple that the visitor has given him. This fruit is enough for Poirot to understand that the visitor at his door is the novelist Ariadne Oliver. The American writer is indeed an old friend of Poirot’s, and she intends to bring some excitement back to the detective’s life. Although Poirot expresses his disinterest almost immediately, Oliver’s insistence is enough to at least make him listen. On the night of Halloween, a private séance is to be held at the house of a renowned retired opera singer, Rowena Drake, and the event is to be conducted by an equally famous psychic, Joyce Reynolds. Oliver finds this psychic, or supernatural medium, Reynolds, to be very interesting, for despite her many efforts, she has not been able to understand how Reynolds carries out her performances.
Knowing very well that Poirot has no belief in the supernatural, Oliver invites him to this very séance, which is to be held right after a children’s Halloween party. The detective is still not very interested, but the character of Joyce Reynolds does seem to strike him. The woman had even been arrested by the police for practicing witchcraft and other supernatural procedures. Hercule Poirot finally agrees, and together with Ariadne Oliver, he arrives at the Drake Palazzo, inadvertently returning to his profession as a detective.
Can Joyce Reynolds Really Communicate With Spirits?
As Poirot and Oliver arrive at the grand old building serving as the Drake family house, a children’s party is going on at the place. As part of a Halloween spectacle for the kids, the spooky story of the house is told to them, and very soon, this turns out to be the actual bloody history of the place. Long before the building had been turned into the private palazzo of the Drake family, it used to be an orphanage seemingly run by doctors and nurses. However, when the deadly plague arrived in town, the doctors and nurses were all afraid of catching the fatal disease and perhaps suspected that some of the children had already gotten it. In order to save themselves from certain death and also to stop the disease from spreading further, the doctors and nurses left the children locked inside the building and left the place.
With nobody to look after their needs and left without any rations, the starving children tried their best to leave the locked orphanage but failed. As all the abandoned children died, it is believed that their spirits still haunt the building, which has now been turned into a palazzo. Anyone who supposedly tries to live at the house in peace is struck by utter tragedy when someone very close to them, or they themselves, are killed by the ghostly children, who only leave behind the mark of a bloodied hand, which has come to be known as The Children’s Vendetta. The latest victim of this supernatural event had been claimed only a year ago, when Rowena Drake tragically lost her daughter, Alicia, supposedly to the spirits. Alicia had fallen into the water from the balcony in her room and had drowned to death, with the mark of The Children’s Vendetta etched onto her back. Whether she had committed suicide or had been pushed to death by someone is not clear, and essentially, this is the mystery that Hercule Poirot solves in A Haunting in Venice.
After the emergence of the famous psychic Joyce Reynolds, and once the séance she performs to contact Alicia Drake begins, the mystery starts to grow thicker. Joyce is possessed by the spirit of the dead girl, and she seems to type answers for her with the help of a typewriter without even touching the keys. While this shocks everyone else in the room, the skeptical Poirot immediately solves this matter by unveiling a young man hidden inside the chimney and operating the typewriter with a remote. Reynolds actually has two assistants, half-siblings Nicholas and Desdemona Holland, and the brother always hides inside rooms where she conducts seances in order to fake the haunting. In reality, Joyce Reynolds does not have any true psychic abilities, and she only pretends her part.
In an even more shocking revelation, Poirot finds out that his dear friend Ariadne Oliver had known this from the very beginning, and she had acted together with Reynolds and the bodyguard Vitale in order to get Poirot involved. Oliver’s last three novels had not sold well despite her earlier works all being bestsellers, and therefore, she wanted to create the plot for her next novel through this fake séance. She knew that Poirot would not believe the psychic and would solve the death of Alicia Drake in his own way, which she would then write about. His bodyguard, Vitale, was a retired policeman who had overseen the case of Alicia’s death, and thus, he knew many details about it, which he then gave to Reynolds in order to put on a show. However, the matter takes a worse turn when Joyce Reynolds herself is pushed to her death by someone in the palazzo.
What Was The Secret Behind Alicia’s Death?
As Joyce Reynolds dies, Hercule Poirot grows certain that the murderer is still among them and that they are linked with Alicia Drake’s death as well. It is the secret behind this death that Poirot uncovers throughout the night, and in true detective story fashion, A Haunting in Venice reveals the secret at the very end. Alicia’s own mother, Rowena Drake, the famous opera singer, had been the one who had killed the young woman a year ago. The mother and daughter had been extremely close to each other throughout their lives, and this also ultimately became the reason behind the crime. Alicia had met and fallen in love with a man named Maxime Gerard, who has been incidentally invited to this party as well by Ariadne Oliver. Alicia and Maxime had gotten engaged, but ultimately, the man broke the commitment and decided to end their relationship. Rowena, who never liked Maxime, believed that the man had been dating her daughter only for their wealth and had now found someone richer. However, the reality was that Rowena’s controlling and meddling presence in her daughter’s life had led to this breakup, for Maxime was tired of his mother-in-law’s constant influence over his fiancée’s decisions.
Following the breakup, Alicia had grown terribly heartbroken, and Rowena feared that her daughter would reconcile with Maxime and thus go out of her control. In order to prevent this, she traveled to Turkey and brought back with her a special flower that yielded a hallucinatory poison inside. Rowena filled her garden with these very flower plants and then used her bees to essentially produce honey laced with hallucinatory poison. The woman started feeding Alicia this very honey in limited doses in order to keep her under her control and to ensure that she did not again fall in love. But one night, as Rowena went for some much-needed sleep, her housekeeper, Olga, kept Alicia company. An avid Catholic nun, Olga was extremely scared when she saw Alicia’s fit and thought it was a sign of the woman losing her mind, when in reality, this was the effect of the hallucinogen. Olga fed the young woman some tea with a lot of honey, thinking that this would ease her pain, but unfortunately, she essentially gave her a high dose of the poison. This led to Alicia’s death within a short while, and when Rowena found her body in the bed, she faked the Children’s Vendetta mark and threw the body from the balcony, making it seem like her daughter had committed suicide after being haunted by the spirits in the palazzo.
Why Did Joyce And Leslie Have To Die?
Following her daughter’s murder one year ago, Rowena Drake has also committed two more shocking murders in order to protect her secret. After Alicia’s death, someone actually figured out the real reason behind her demise and wrote Rowena a letter, blackmailing her for money. The woman had no option but to pay the money, and this blackmail continued for a year. But within this time, she had run out of her wealth, and her efforts to sell off the palazzo did not work either, since no buyer wanted it for its reputation as being haunted. Thus, she decided to figure out who the blackmailer was and then get rid of them completely.
Rowena’s first suspect was Dr. Leslie Ferrier, the family physician, and the reason was obviously his profession. Leslie had always been romantically interested in Alicia, and since he was a doctor, Rowena feared that the man had investigated Alicia’s death and had found out about the poisonous honey. Then, when Joyce Reynolds herself approached Rowena to conduct a séance at her home to communicate secrets from her dead daughter, she grew suspicious of the woman as well. Although Reynolds had been told to do this by Ariadne Oliver only to lure in Poirot and give her an interesting plot, Rowena Drake saw this direct approach as a sign that the psychic somehow knew a lot about her daughter’s death and, therefore, must be linked with the blackmail.
Not taking any chance whatsoever, Rowena had decided to kill both of them. She made the mistake of pushing Poirot into the apple bobbing tub as he wore Reynolds’ mask, and this actually made the detective begin his investigation. Rowena quickly found Reynolds next and pushed her to her death. Later on, she convinces the PTSD-stricken Dr. Leslie to kill himself by threatening to kill his young son if he does not comply. Although Rowena had committed two more murders, she had still not gotten rid of the blackmailer, for it was actually Leslie’s intelligent son, Leopold, who had solved the mystery of Alicia’s death and blackmailed the woman for money.
What Happens To Rowena In The End?
After this final confrontation with Poirot, Rowena Drake runs up into the tower of the palazzo and reaches a balcony high in the building, similar to the one from where Alicia had been thrown. The woman now hysterically admits what she had done, stating that she could never let go of her daughter and had, therefore, killed her when she wanted to marry. At this instance, Poirot sees the ghost of Alicia appear and push her mother down from the balcony, making Rowena fall into the water and immediately drown. However, Poirot had also earlier revealed that he, too, had been drugged with the hallucinatory poison by Rowena, which made him see supernatural visions and hear ghostly voices throughout the runtime of A Haunting in Venice.
Therefore, it seems like this final apparition was also part of his poison-induced hallucination, and in reality, Rowena had committed suicide out of guilt and fear of being punished by the law. But for those more willing to believe in ghosts, it is possible to see this scene as proof that the palazzo was indeed haunted. As heavy grief looms over the place the next morning, Poirot meets with each of the individuals and learns that Olga is adopting Leopold since the boy has no family left. The money that Leopold got from Rowena is handed over to the psychic’s assistants, Nicholas and Desdemona, so that they can use it to go to the United States and start a new life. During A Haunting in Venice‘s ending, Hercule Poirot is seen returning to his home in Venice, but unlike before, he keeps the main door of his house open to visitors. This immediately signifies that the detective is once again willing to take up cases, and the film ends with Poirot quickly solving one of the many cases that common men and women now bring him.