DARK SHADOWS, 2012
Director: Tim Burton
Stars: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Helena Bonham Carter, Jackie Earle Haley, ChloĆ« Grace Moretz, Bella Heathcote
Review by Joshua Starnes
DARK SHADOWS MOVIE TRAILER WATCH
A gothic-horror tale centering on the life of vampire Barnabas Collins and his run-ins with various monsters, witches, werewolves and ghosts. Based on the cult TV series.
Oh, Tim Burton, why do you do this to us?
Time and again you lure us with your sirens call of quirky taste and gothic style, promising us tales of gothic whimsy the like of which film is uniquely capable of creating. It's a style many, many directors have tried their hand at and not been able to fully grasp (let us think no more on the unfortunate Barry Sonnenfeld), and which you alone claim to have mastered or at least refuse to move away from.
And yet, as time goes on, you miss as often as you hit. For all the "Ed Woods" and "Edward Scissorhands" there are the unfortunate "Planet of the Apes" and "Alice in Wonderlands." Films which certainly appeal to your sense of style, but which you don't seem to know what to do with.
But "Dark Shadows," a big screen adaptation of the 60's era gothic soap opera daring to feature vampires and ghosts and werewolves and time travel should have been right up your alley. Like the "Harry Potter" film you were made to direct and never given the chance at, "Dark Shadows" is uniquely situated to make the best of your talents, offering both over the top horror, dark fantasy, and classic middle class melodrama.
So why is it such a mess?
Granted, staying honest to its daytime soap roots at the outset puts the story in a straight jacket right from the off.
You see, the Collins family was once paterfamilias to the town of Collinsport, Maine. Unfortunately, the Collins are cursed; cursed by a servingwench/witch who once turned ancestor Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) into a vampire, and has been slowly destroying the family ever since. With the loss of power and prestige, the once mighty Collins' have been reduced to matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfieffer), her sullen teenage daughter (Chloė Moretz), her lazy, money-grubbing brother (Johnny Lee Miller) and his son (Gulliver McGrath) who all fear is mad because of his claims to be regularly visited by the ghost of his dead mother. Because everyone knows ghosts and goblins aren't real.
Or at least everyone knew that until a crew of road workers accidentally release Barnabas Collins from the coffin he has spent 200 years in, and let him loose on the world once more.
Sure, it's got a lot of players, a lot of subplots to keep track of, especially with the additions of David's psychiatrist (Helena Bonham Carter) -- who has an unhealthy fixation on Barnabas -- and governess Victoria (Bella Heathcote) who is the spitting image of Barnabas' lost love. But Burton has worked with similar ensembles before and by now should know where and how to focus his attention well before editing.
But that hasn't happened. Instead the screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), with shared story credit to John August ("Big Fish"), relishes in a lot of the dark absurdism his books are known for with little attention to structure and Burton lets him.
Set in the early 1970s, not exactly the period of the original show but not far off, Burton and Smith have focused more of their attention on Barnabas' fish out of water characteristics, as his 17th century manner runs smack into modern pop culture with a few side trips down 70s cliché lane. It works right up until it doesn't, at which point the entire film comes crashing down like a house of cards.
Like Burton's other unfortunate attempts, "Dark Shadows" failure is particularly painful because there is quite a lot good about it. Depp plays Barnabas as the most theatrical of vampires, always in some spotlight only he can see and completely oblivious to irony. It makes the campiest jokes work, and it makes the good jokes (particularly one about the manor's secret compartments) work really well. Especially when Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), the witch who cursed Barnabas initially, emerges on the scene.
Green relishes in Angelique's wickedness, particularly her hatred of Barnabas Collins which outstrips everything except her love for him. Cursing him for spurning her, after 200 years she realizes she can't live without him. Her feelings are not returned.
To be fair, Depp and Green are far and away the best thing about "Dark Shadows." While everyone gets to be camp, they are allowed to give their characters the otherworldly-ness needed to carry it off. They're scenes together are easily the best parts of the movie.
At some point Burton has come to this conclusion, cutting everyone and everything that doesn't immediately play into that dynamic unless the plot requires them to be introduced or gotten rid of. Unfortunately he seems to have done that well into the filming and maybe even the editing process, leaving "Dark Shadows" littered with the bodies of abandoned subplots. Subplots which, like brain-eating zombies, rear their desiccated heads during the should-be-thrilling-but-isn't climax because they are unfortunately required for the finale as shot to make sense. By which point they've been forgotten for so long they've lost all power or effect.
What secret is governess Victoria hiding and what is her connection long lost love? What really happened to David's mother and why does he think he can commune with ghosts? Why does Carolyn spend so much time alone and growl at everyone who crosses her path (besides being a teenager)? Will Victoria be able to look past Barnabas vampiric nature?
Unlike the soap opera "Dark Shadows" is based on you will eventually get answers to all of these questions. You just won't care by the time you do.