Based off a 70s television program, then rebooted by beloved filmmaker Tim Burton, and now starring the versatile Johnny Depp, there’s a whole lot of backdrop behind Dark Shadows. However, none of that “what went into the filmmaking” information will necessarily richen your cinematic experience. That’s primarily because Burton’s latest effort – since his polarizing retelling of Alice In Wonderland (2010) – is clunky, plodding, and consistently searching for the right tone.
Where the film does understand itself is in the opening act. Burton begins his story in the grim year of 1752 where the intelligent, privileged, and romantic Barnabas Collins (Depp) is suffering. He has loved many in his life: his mother and father, Josette DuPres, and at one time Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green). But Barnabas’s choosing of Josette rather than Angelique turns out to be his downfall. Angelique, being a malevolent witch, casts a spell to turn Barnabas into a vampire and murder all of his loved ones.
Subsequent with the Barnabas’s hardships, Angelique imprisons him to a coffin for eternity. That is, until the wild, marijuana fueled, anti-war year of 1972.
Miraculously Barnabas wakes up after more than two centuries of lying on his own deathbed. As one may suspect, our protagonist travels back to his eerie mansion where it is being run by the newest generation of Collins. In particular Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), doctor Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter), and their two kids David (Gulliver McGrath) and Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz).
This is where Dark Shadows narratively concludes, or at least where it should have. Despite my mostly dramatic plot synopsis, most of Tim Burton’s picture is comprised of comedic sketches, antiquated gags, and thin plotlines that sporadically amuse.
We receive plenty of humor where our 1700s born and raised Barnabas is thrown into 1970s American counter culture (i.e.: he breaks a television because he believes it to be some magical sorcery device, and keeps wondering why one would ever marvel Alice Cooper). Quick question: What is the fascination with Alice Cooper?
Once Barnabas wakes up from his 220 year long nap, he’s threatened by the immortal witch that cursed him o-so long ago, but that doesn’t quite provoke anything engaging to transpire on screen. There’s no tension, no true antagonist, and no plotline to make us care for the many defected family members.
Burton supplies his typical style of filmmaking – ominous set pieces, hauntingly beautiful opening sequences, and his creative blend of darkness and melancholy. Burton also goes the extra mile to pitch perfectly capture the early 70s: particularly with his soundtrack filled to the brim with bands like The Carpenters and T. Rex, and even taking a shot of the local marque where Deliverance and Superfly are playing.
Depp fills in some gaps on an entertainment level. He’s the type of actor that’s able to draw you in purely with charisma – even if the screenplay (written by Seth Grahame-Smith) has a promising first act, a middling second, a perplexing third, and an entirely dismissive, nonsensical fourth.
Towards the end of the film there’s a line Elizabeth says that goes something like “we will do what we always have done, endure”. And that’s how I’m beginning to gage the recent efforts of Depp and Burton. The passionate fans that have always enjoyed the pairings films in the past will continue to endure through the mediocrity, in hopes the auteur they once knew and loved will return to form.
But I suspect for most, Dark Shadows will be just another Johnny Depp vehicle in which you desperately wish something fascinating would occur. Which wouldn’t be too arduous of a task if the film could decide if it wanted be a spoof, satire, comedy, drama, parody, or homage to the vampire genre.
Dark Shadows ends up being none of the above: except desperate.