I am extremely boring with my relentless crowing over the fact that I read all of Agatha Christie’s published works the year I was 13, but one thing about having done that is it 100% sticks in your head when kids play a pivotal role in her proceedings (hello, the magnificent Crooked House.) Hallowe’en Party was always memorable to me because it’s about a kid who was my age at the time telling everyone at the titular party that she saw a murder, only to be subsequently drowned in an apple-bobbing tub before she could provide further detail. Not that anyone really believed her, at least not until after she died.
Another thing about reading all the books so quickly and so young is that I’ve had my leisure to peruse the derivative media in the many years since. Y’all, so much of it is terribad*. I think one of the greatest disappointments for me was watching a version of Murder On The Orient Express where they fucked up the ending so bad, I swore off screen adaptations unless I had a really, really compelling reason to go. Unsurprisingly, that reason did not appear until very recently, with the trailer of Kenneth Branagh’s A Haunting In Venice, based loosely on the afore-mentioned Hallowe’en Party.
I have mixed feelings regarding Kenneth Branagh: he is very much an ACTOR and sometimes his grandstanding (e.g. in Emma and in the wizarding series) makes it very clear that he IS Kenneth Branagh in the role of whomever. I didn’t bother with his version of MotOE because I had no compelling reason to be disappointed again. There was also no way in hell I’d watch Death On The Nile, which is mean girl garbage that only works on-screen if you have an actress who can make you feel sorry for Linnet Doyle. Gal Gadot is gorgeous and charismatic but vulnerable is not (yet) in her wheelhouse.
But I was sufficiently impressed with the vanishing act Kenneth Branagh the Actor did for his role in Tenet that I felt I might not be going into AHiV to watch Kenneth Branagh Impersonate Hercule Poirot. Even more persuasive was the casting of Michelle Yeoh, who’s excellent in everything she’s in. I was also intrigued by Tina Fey taking on the role of Dame Christie’s self-insert character Ariadne Oliver, and pleased that they allowed the character to be American so that Ms Fey wouldn’t have to attempt an accent more challenging than Transatlantic.
That wasn’t the only change from canon. The dead 13 year-old was replaced by Michelle Yeoh’s fully grown spirit medium, and instead of having a fete in the English countryside, the party is held in a crumbling Venetian palazzo. There are many other significant differences but they’re extremely well thought out, making for a still excellent mystery that isn’t a word for word copy of the book.
One very pleasant surprise for me was Jamie Dornan’s performance as a doctor with PTSD. That kind of role is extremely easy to ham up, but Mr Dornan infused his performance with a softness and sadness that made the utter blankness behind his eyes when he violently snapped that much more distressing and believable. Mr Branagh’s brisk direction, coupled with editing that snips seconds off the pauses that naturally occur at the beginning of most people’s interactions, keeps the action going while blunting ever so slightly the dramatic impact, excising any melodrama in favor of keeping audiences off-balance as the movie progresses. And it all works. AHiV is by no means the best mystery movie ever made, but it is clever and charming and has just the right amount of jump scares for spooky season. I really enjoyed it, and that is something I’ve never said before about any screen adaptation of Dame Christie’s novels.
*A notable exception to the derivative media curse is Diana Urban’s impressive feminist reclamation of Death On The Nile with her recent YA novel, Lying In The Deep.
Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie was first published November 1 1969 by Collins Crime Club. More recent editions, including the movie tie-in, are available from all good booksellers, including