Well, I said in my post yesterday that you’d get a review for Dark Shadows and here it is. This is Tim Burton’s latest film and the first of two he’s got coming out this year, the next one being the feature-length remake of his 1984 stop-motion Disney short Frankenweenie, about a boy who re-generates his dead dog, which comes out later this summer. Dark Shadows, on the other hand, is Burton’s adaptation of the late 60’s/ early 70’s monster-laiden soap opera, starring a collection of familiar faces for Burton’s films, including Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and Michelle Pfeiffer, as well as some new faces like Eva Green, Jackie Earle Haley and Chloe Grace Moretz.
Dark Shadows centres around ancient vampire Barnabas Collins (Depp), who is cursed by an evil witch named Angelique (Green) to live an eternal life of misery after she kills the woman Collins chose to love instead of her. After discovering his dark secret, the townsfolk of Collinsport in New England lock Collins in a chained coffin and bury him alive. 196 years later, it’s 1972 and Collins’ tomb is accidentally uncovered by a crew of construction workers. He awakens and feasts on the unfortunate men who find him, before making his way back into town to his former residence, Collinwood, which is now occupied by a large and crazy cast of characters that you’d expect from a Burton film. There’s Michelle Pfeiffer as Elizabeth Collins, Barnabas’ great-granddaughter and the impromptu leader of the family, Johnny Lee Miller as her conniving brother Roger, Chloe Grace Moretz as Elizabeth’s daughter Carolyn, the character Winona Ryder would have played if this was still 1988, Gulliver McGrath (aka that kid from that one scene in Hugo) as Roger’s son David who never seems nearly as strange or disturbed as the other characters keep claiming, Helena Bonham Carter as the alcoholic live-in psychologist hired to analyze David, Bella Heathcote as David’s recently-hired governess Victoria, Jackie Earle Haley as the family care-taker Willie and Ray Shirley as Mrs. Johnson.
Yes, there are a lot of characters in this movie and with them, lots of sub-plots to juggle. So many actually that the film barely finds a plot of its own. It mostly revolves around Barnabas’ attempts to restore his family honour and foil Angelique in the local fishing industry. Exciting stuff. The problem with so much going on is that things I wanted to see more of are barely shown, such as the under-developed love story between Barnabas and Victoria and David’s struggle to fit into the family and connect with his father. Then when pay-off does happen in the third act, it’s not really earned and the audience feels cheated. The pacing is way off too. Burton lingers in spots where our interest is hardly earned and rushes through the parts I was genuinely interested in. The biggest problem though, comes from the film’s overall tone. Dark Shadows has to balance romance, drama and comedy and find a nice middle-ground between soap opera and Hammer horror film. It often struggles to find its footing. I’m not quite sure who Burton was making this movie for either. It’s too mature to be for kids, but it’s too goofy for adults. It’s unlikely that Dark Shadows will find an audience outside of Tim Burton’s fervent and ever loyal fan-base.
I’ve complained a lot, but I didn’t actually despise Dark Shadows. I still had fun with it, despite its flaws. The jokes work brilliantly too. Most of the humour is reliant on the juxtaposition of time periods and the goofy monster love-stories the film focuses on, but I found myself laughing in spite of the source material. One scene in which Barnabas confronts Elizabeth about not having a husband and refers to her “birthing hips” had me almost rolling on the theatre floor. I chuckled just typing the words “birthing hips”. There, I did it again. So, I guess it’s not all bad. If you go in expecting little more than entertainment, you won’t be entirely let down.
I give Dark Shadows two and a half briefs out of five.
On a side note, has anyone else noticed how Tim Burton almost never casts black people in his movies? Slightly less pale people don’t count.