Review - Dark Shadows


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  • Review - Dark Shadows
  • Review - Dark Shadows
  • Dark Shadows

Depp and Burton have finally teamed up... oh wait...
Dark Shadows (2012)
Tim Burton
Johnny Depp, Eva Green
Release Date:
Age Rating:
When he spurns a witches love, Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) is cursed to live out his days as a vampire and trapped in a coffin for two centuries. Waking up in 1972, he finds a changed world and sets out to restore the fortunes of the Collin’s family.

Dark Shadows is the latest collaboration between director Tim Burton and star Johnny Depp and comes out of a mutual love for the 1960s soap which spawned this big screen version. As Depp’s star has soared in the wake of Pirates of the Caribbean, his work with Burton has become ever more lucrative even as the two have fallen into a repetitive formula which seems intent on straining the patience of fans and critics alike.

The film bears little enough resemblance to the original TV show, instead forging its own path with a tale that focuses on the importance of family and the revenge of a woman scorned. But Dark Shadows actually begins, after a lengthy and atmospheric prologue, with the story of a young woman Victoria (Bella Heathcote) who makes her way to the sprawling but dilapidated Collins mansion to start a new life.

It’s here that Dark Shadows is most effective, using the character of Victoria to introduce us to this world before throwing Depp’s Barnabas back into the mix. After a surprisingly vicious arrival (this vampire has no problem showing his teeth) the film enters amiable fish out of water comedy mode, with Barnabas confronted by troll dolls, strange music and a family far removed from the glory days of the 1700s.

Sadly, the film soon forgoes all other storylines, sure in the knowledge that whenever Depp is prancing around on screen doing a funny voice, audiences will be entertained. The problem is the character is utterly dull and oddly passive, doing little to actually further the significant plots and side-stepping confrontation when it returns in the form of Eva Green’s Angelique. Here, Burton’s obsession with Depp reaches pathological proportions, forcing any more interesting plot points, characters and situations deep into the background.

Worse still, despite being heavily billed as a comedy in the promotional material, Dark Shadows is mostly bereft of laughs. The tone is often sombre, particularly the pitch black introductory scenes, and much of the cast play things absolutely straight. But that tone is far from consistent – it breaks for a lengthy comedy sex scene and shatters completely as the excess and ridiculousness of the finale threatens to derail an already shaky narrative.

Burton has wrangled an impressive cast for Dark Shadows but they are mostly underutilised. Michelle Pfeiffer does a great job as the family matriarch, making us wish she did more feature work while Helena Bonham Carter plays slightly against type and young Chloe Moretz does angsty teenager with an agreeably uncomfortable substrata of sexuality. Eva Green’s witch swiftly becomes grating (particularly her yankie twang) while Heathcote, Jackie Earle Hayley and Jonny Lee Miller are almost ignored.

And then there’s Depp. Caked in heavy makeup and an even thicker accent, there are times when you only have to squint to see Willy Wonka or a spring cleaned Jack Sparrow. The exaggerated mannerisms and carefully convoluted speech patterns have gone beyond repetitive to the point of self parody while the familiar production design makes it feel like he’s stuck in some recurring Nietzschean nightmare fabricated by Burton.

Despite these failings, Dark Shadows is one of the better films Burton has produced in years – which is more an indication of his recent failings than any real recommendation. The story is more or less comprehensible and the script above average, courtesy of novelist and new Burton stooge Seth Grahame-Smith. The dark drama of its opening act is compelling enough and the effects are more focussed on the practical then the plastic excess of Alice in Wonderland. But the focus on Depp’s character to the detriment of all others, a lack of convincing crisis or cackles and a loony closing act means Dark Shadows is remains something of a non-event.

4 Stars
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