Review: Dark Shadows / Cert: 12A / Director: Tim Burton / Screenplay: Seth Grahame-Smith / Starring: Johnny Depp, Eva Green, Helena Bonham Carter, Chloe Moretz, Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Lee Miller, Jackie Earle Hayley, Bella Heathcote / Release Date: Out Now
Gothic ‘70s soap Dark Shadows joins the likes of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland as a predictable choice for director Tim Burton. It seems the days when he would challenge himself with films like Ed Wood, Sweeney Todd and Big Fish are long gone and his career follows the blockbuster road made easier for him now by the fact that Johnny Depp can guarantee a huge box office opening. So we come to Dark Shadows, which whilst not quite the turkey that some are claiming, suffers greatly from the fact that the original Dark Shadows was actually a soap, a soap with vampires, but a soap in the way that Home and Away is a soap.
We begin the film back in the 19th century with wealthy heir to a fishing empire Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) about to be married to the love of his life. His jealous ex-lover Angelique turns out to be a witch and she convinces his fiancée to throw herself off a cliff. Barnabas follows her over and awakens cursed to be a vampire for all eternity. Barnabas is hounded and hunted by Angelique and the townspeople of Collinsport, who bury him in a coffin for the rest of his life. We then find ourselves in 1972 and Barnabas’ rest is disturbed by some construction work, he awakens, feeds and then sets back for his mansion. There he finds what is left of the Collins family, headed by Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer). Barnabas sets about re-building the Collins empire and settling in with the family, which is complicated by the fact that child psychiatrist Victoria arrives and is an exact double of the lost love of his life, and Angelique is now the CEO of a rival fishing company in town.
The problems with Dark Shadows are many. Most obviously the film has no idea what it’s going for. Is it a fish out of water comedy like Austin Powers? It tries but never fully commits to the silliness and apart from a few chuckles is really not that funny. Is it a horror comedy along the lines of The Addams Family or Death Becomes Her? It could also be seen like this but apart from Barnabas himself the supernatural elements are few and far between, with most of them suddenly being jammed into the last twenty minutes by which point you have stopped caring. Added to this the fact that Barnabas actually kills more innocent people than the supposed bad guy and you have an idea of the confusing tone of this film.
Dark Shadows never rises above its soap opera roots; the film feels very much like a soap opera with characters and scandals introduced and then tossed aside for most of the running time with the plot only really kicking in in the last twenty minutes. Like a soap, the film is just kind of there, not really exciting or thrilling you but kind of like white noise and at some points tedious.
There are things to like here but they are few and far between. Johnny Depp is good as Barnabas but the performance is maybe a little too self-aware. Some of his lines are good as he struggles to fit in in the ‘70s but most of the comedy feels contrived and puzzling. Eva Green is quite brilliant as the villainous witch Angelique, proving she can do a panto style villain as well as the more serious independent film roles she is known for. The decision not to depict her as an old hag in the modern age is also smart; instead they give her beautiful visage a shattering china effect whenever she uses her powers which is really neat. Helena Bonham Carter continues to prove she was born to be in Tim Burton’s films and Chloe Moretz also impresses as the young teenage daughter on the verge of a major transformation not just into womanhood. Sadly Michelle Pfeiffer, Jonny Lee Miller and Jackie Earle Haley are given very little to do apart from make up the members of the Collins clan on which to hang the soapy plot. As previously mentioned the final twenty minutes pile on the special effects with sudden reveals of supernatural abilities that will leave you scratching your head but are visually accomplished nonetheless. Danny Elfman’s score is also worth mentioning because it’s the least Elfman esque of his collaborations with Burton for a while and is quite refreshing.
So far between Battleship and Dark Shadows, summer blockbuster season 2012 isn’t going terribly well with only The Avengers worth getting excited about. Dark Shadows may be better than Alice in Wonderland and finds Burton on less manic form, but it’s sadly not the return to form hoped for and the gothic franchise will return to the obscurity from which it came.
Expected Rating: 7 out of 10