Warning: Spoilers for A Haunting In Venice
Warning! This post contains spoilers for A Haunting In Venice
While director/star Kenneth Branagh’s A Haunting In Venice is arguably his best Hercule Poirot adaptation so far, the murder mystery inexplicably reveals the identity of the killer in its opening scene. A Haunting In Venice is the third Agatha Christie adaptation to come from director Kenneth Branagh. The screen veteran brought together another impressive ensemble cast for this loose adaptation of Christie’s later Hercule Poirot novel, Hallowe’en Party. Hallowe’en Party is an atypically cynical, dark story that departs from the charming comedy of Poirot’s earlier novel appearances.
Almost every character in A Haunting In Venice’s cast is very different from their book counterpart. Tina Fey’s Ariadne Oliver is still a bestselling mystery author who based her most famous character on Poirot, but she is a scheming, charismatic charmer whereas Christie’s character was an absent-minded goofball. Joyce Reynolds is no longer a loud child, but instead an enigmatic medium played by Michelle Yeoh. Even Leopold, an unsettling young boy who falls victim to a brutal fate in the novel, plays a much altered supporting role in A Haunting In Venice.
Since A Haunting In Venice mostly discards the characters and setting of Hallowe’en Party, Christie fanatics could reasonably assume this is a rare Poirot adaptation where the audience can’t guess the killer. However, while A Haunting In Venice’s killer reveal is completely different from that of the source novel, Branagh’s movie does give the game away early on. Rowena Drake’s first onscreen appearance makes her status as the killer extremely obvious since the shot sees her in a position that combines two of her chosen murder methods. Rowena is first seen behind a small girl who is crying hysterically on a high balcony, afraid of the drop.
The ending reveals that A Haunting In Venice’s main victim, Joyce, died when she was pushed off this balcony to her death. Meanwhile, the twist also reveals that Rowena’s young daughter Alyssa also died a year earlier when Rowena dumped her body from a similarly precipitous drop off the building’s roof. There are many differences between A Haunting In Venice and Hallowe’en Party, but once viewers see Rowena standing holding a female character beside a high drop, it doesn’t take much mental legwork to guess that she pushed Joyce to her death and threw her daughter from the roof.
A Haunting In Venice is Branagh’s strongest Poirot movie yet, balancing the tension, horror elements, offbeat comedic relief, and elegiac sadness of the story better even than Christie’s Hallowe’en Party. However, the movie never does much to hide Rowena’s guilt. Even if viewers missed her early introduction, Rowena is also the one who insistently (and publicly) hands Poirot the key to the room where Dr. Ferrier is resting. This means Ferrier’s killer could only be her or Poirot, thus making the killer’s identity quite easy to discern. This is surprising since, although Branagh’s A Haunting In Venice has a reputation as an outstanding great Poirot adaptation, the mystery itself is one of its weaker points.