Directed by: Tim Burton
Premise: An adaptation of the 1960s television series. A vampire (Johnny Depp) is released from imprisonment after 200 years and attempts to acclimate to life in the 1970s while rebuilding the family business.
What Works: Dark Shadows is a Tim Burton production and, if nothing else, the most prodigious element of Burton’s films is the production design. That is the case here and Dark Shadows marries a gothic European aesthetic to the trends and tastes of 1970s America. That combination shouldn’t work at all but it does, sometimes because of the contrast, and the film synthesizes the styles of the period to create an atmosphere of decadence. The other major strength of Dark Shadows is the casting of Eva Green as Angelique Bouchard, the witch who has cursed the Collins family. The actress vamps it up, channeling Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz, Sharon Stone as seen in Basic Instinct, and Cassandra Peterson’s Elvira. She is easily the most watchable presence in the film and the picture drags whenever she isn’t on screen.
What Doesn’t: Like a lot of director Tim Burton’s recent efforts, Dark Shadows is all art direction with little actual substance. This film tries to be a horror comedy and although there are some very funny moments in it, the combination does not work very well. Successful horror comedies like Ghostbusters or Evil Dead 2 create a tension between laughs and screams and done right that can be a very entertaining combination but Dark Shadows never establishes a coherent tone. The movie has a patchwork quality and many scenes have little connection to one another. Despite alternating between some strong horrific moments and some comedic highlights, Dark Shadows is very boring. It is an uninvolving story, mostly due to a series of narrative missteps. The most serious gaffe is the misconception of Barnabas Collins, played by Johnny Depp. As a vampire he has to feed on the blood of the living, meaning he has to kill people. This creates a major problem for the film which it completely fumbles. There is no attempt to provide Barnabas with “acceptable” targets as was done with Hannibal Lecter in Hannibal Rising, give him alternatives as was done with the vampires of Twilight, or make the character wrestle with his monstrosity as in Interview with the Vampire. Perhaps because the filmmakers don’t quite know what to do with the character, Depp phones in his performance with a halfhearted iteration of Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean. Without a strong central character the film has nothing to shape its story around and its narrative threads hang loose. There is no dramatic arc to the main plotline in which the family business is restored nor does anything meaningful happen among the family members. The conflict between Barnabas and Angelique has no escalating conflict and there is some very poor plotting decisions in their story, most notably a scene in which they have a sexual encounter. When the film gets to its ending the filmmakers attempt to make up for their lack of drama by throwing in all manner of storytelling twists but none of them make much sense and the stunts and special effects fail to awe because they don’t have any meaning behind them.
Bottom Line: Dark Shadows continues Tim Burton’s descent into irrelevance. Although he made very good pictures early on in his career, the director hasn’t made a noteable film since 2005’s Corpse Bride. Dark Shadows has the look of Burton’s work but none of the soul or storytelling that made his ghoulish tales so memorable.
Episode: #389 (May 20, 2012)