Film Reviews, Rants and Opinions

Friday, 18 May 2012

Yet Another "Dark Shadows" Review

Gothic Director Tim Burton teams up with Johnny Depp once again to  resurrect an old supernatural soap, but can they breathe new life into the old Melodrama?

In the mid-18th Century rich playboy Barnabus Collins (Johnny Depp) has everything he could ever want: loving parents, lots of money, a flurry of beautiful conquests and a big, big house.  When he spurns the attention of beautiful-but-deadly witch Angelique (Eva Green) she murders his parents, drives his true love to suicide and, to top it all off, curses him to live an undead life of vampirism. Nice.  The townspeople, afraid of the monster who now lives at Collinwood Estate, for the obligatory lynch-mob and bury him forever(ish).

Cut to *ahem* "Present Day" 1972. Maggie Evans (Bella Heathcote) heads to the town of Collinsport, fleeing a mysterious past.  She assumes a false name and arrives at Collinwood, still home to the Collins family where she meets with head of household Elizabeth Collins (Michelle Pfeiffer) who takes her on a tour of the mansion, introducing Maggie to her feisty daughter Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz), her layabout brother Roger (Johnny Lee Miller) and his troubled, loner son (hey, it is a Tim Burton film) David (Gulliver McGrath). Live-in Therapist Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) and oddball caretaker Willie (Jackie Earle Haley) round out the household.  Miraculously that very night the undead Barnabus escapes his prison and makes his way back to Collinwood.  He sees the family in disrepair and vows to restore their name to it's former glory, destroying the immortal witch Angelique in the process.

Dark Shadows isn't a terrible movie. It certainly isn't Burton's worst, but it isn't his best either.  Not by a country mile.  It suffers partially from the same issues as American Reunion in that, for a comedy, it just isn't that funny.  There are some humorous moments but the Laugh-O-Meter* never rises above "warm chuckle".  Coupled with this is the fact that the film seems to take some time in deciding exactly what genre it is.  The prologue is suitably melodramatic, harking back to the movie's Soap Opera roots, but when Barnabus returns the tone takes a U-turn towards comedy.

Attempting to emulate the Soap Opera formula also means that there is just too much going on in this movie.  Johnny Lee Miller's role doesn't really bring anything to the movie, his character could easily have been written out completely.  The same can be said of Helena Bonham Carter's role.  Sorry Mrs.Burton but there is no room for you in this movie.  To top it all off, a third act development for Chloe Moretz's Carolyn feels completely shoehorned in.  Because of everything else that was going on Maggie/Victoria - who began the movie as a strong PoV character - ends up being side-lined, meaning the movie loses any sympathetic resonance with the audience.  It also means that the romance between her and Barnabus feels a little forced.

Though deeply flawed, the movie isn't a total disaster: the performances are all top-notch (though Eva Greens "American" accent is a little suspect) and the film is, for the most part, enjoyable.  Depp's Barnabus is wonderfully OTT in his "stiff upper-lip" English-ness, and he clearly owes a debt of gratitude to Max Schreck's performance as Count Orlok in "Nosferatu".  Fans of Burton and Depp should definitely watch this movie, just don't expect greatness.

The Good: A sequence featuring some Alice Cooper confusion is a definite stand-out moment.

The Bad: Making Barnabus Collins the focal point was a huge mistake: Like Jack Sparrow he would have been better used as a "force of nature" rather than a leading man in his own right.

The Ugly: Bella Heathcote is certainly striking, and a typical "Tim Burton" beauty, but doesn't she look eerily like the Corpse Bride in her final scene?

*NB not a real Laugh-O-Meter


  1. I agree with your 'The Bad' on both points.

  2. Yeah it's a problem all the Pirates sequels had, but particularly Pirates 4. I've never been more disappointed with a film. When they make Pirates 5 they need to return to the formula of the first: Jack helping to move someone elses story forward rather than focusing on his own.

  3. This film starts off extremely strong, only to quickly descend into mediocrity. Depp’s wild performance is the real saving factor here. I think Burton and Depp need to take a vacation from each other for a while. Good review.

    1. Yeah I agree, it would be sad to "break up the band" but it may be for the best until they have something important to say