Dark Shadows is yet another collaboration of eccentric director Tim Burton and actor Johnny Depp. They have made many movies together – Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride, Sweeney Todd, Alice in Wonderland, and now their latest, Dark Shadows. I have seen all save for Ed Wood. Their movies are always great, each with their own unique style. Even if they are lacking in some certain aspects, you can never say it wasn’t at least an interesting experience. The movie is based on an old cult TV show that I myself have never heard of before. After checking up on it, everything was in place for another solid production from the both of them. That’s what I thought, at least.
Barnabas (Johnny Depp) has everything going for him. He is the master of Collinwood Manor. He is rich, powerful and a playboy. One day, though, he makes the biggest mistake of his life when he breaks the heart of Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green). She is a witch, through and through. Angelique sentences him to a fate far worse than a simple death. For his punishment, she turns him into a vampire and then buries him alive. Two centuries later, Barnabas is freed by accident into the world of 1972. He returns to his old manor to find his once great estate run down. To top it off, the dysfunctional remnants of the Collins family have fared not too much better than he.
Everything starts out well. It grabbed my attention and made me want to see where the story would go from there. It went somewhere all right, just not in the direction I was expecting, or wanted. It started out in a dark tone. So naturally, I expected it to stay that way. As soon as Barnabas was freed from his long burial, however, the tone changed almost immediately. All of a sudden it becomes a funny fish-out-of-water tale instead of a dark tale about a vampire. There are still some times the movie tries to frighten us, but it’s just jump-scares that have little to no effect. The first 15 minutes or so of the movie was good, then it transitions to just okay, but after the hour mark, things start to fall apart rather quickly.
Tim Burton is a very good director. But he has one fault and here it is more noticeable than it has ever been. He will set up this interesting world and have a good opening, but when it comes to the third act, he can’t finish what he started. Dan Curtis wrote the screenplay. The jokes are all hit or miss. None of them made me laugh really hard and none made me cringe. The main fault of the screenplay is the way it deals with the characters. All the characters are one-dimensional. Their reason for even being in the story seems gratuitous, at best; they’re like props. A couple of the characters were at least handled in a passable manner. Most of the characters, though, had me thinking, really… this is what you’re doing with this? None of the characters were interesting (save for Depp) and the relationships weren’t developed well enough to make anything believable in any stretch of the imagination.
The main relationship gone array is the one with Depp and Green’s character. Green plays the witch – the main antagonist. Depp is the main protagonist. Barnabas and Angelique are not friends. Throughout the movie, Barnabas repeats how much he wants to kill her, but he never even attempts to carry through with his threat. That is, until it’s forced upon him. Their relationship is so weird that I never bought into it. Their love-hate relationship just doesn’t work. And given that, both the film’s drama and humor lack any ring of truth. The movie becomes a series of misfires, one after the other.
Some great actors and actresses are in Dark Shadows. Chloë Moretz, Eva Green, Christopher Lee, Helena Bonham Carter, Jackie Earle Haley, Michelle Pfeiffer, Bella Heathcote, and, of course, the one and only Johnny Depp. Aside from Depp, all of them are wasted. I don’t think it’s any of the actors’ fault. They were limited by the writing. Depp’s performance is the only reason to see the movie. He alone, among all the characters, succeeds in his role. Barnabas is extremely engaging to watch. Every mannerism he embodies has some sort of purpose. Depp’s performance reminded me of what he accomplished with Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Every reaction had something behind it. I only wish he would have had better material to work with. Depp almost carries the movie on his own, but in the end, the writing and direction were just too weak.
The costumes and cinematography are remarkably well done. As usual, Tim Burton excelled in the visual department. I know Burton didn’t write the script, but throughout I could just hear and see Burton’s style everywhere. If he had a better screenwriter working on this we might have had a completely different movie. The direction doesn’t seem consistent. It seemed out of rhythm. The characters didn’t interact together convincingly. There are so any things wrong with Dark Shadows. Only Depp’s performance and a few bright spots kept me watching.
Overall though, it was a waste of time and a huge disappointment! I wondered what story it was trying to tell. Unfortunately, this was a lazy effort from a pair that’s capable of so much more. I know this rating may seem too low, but I can’t think of a big reason to tell someone they should see this. Plenty of other Depp-Burton collaborations to see, better comedies, better vampire movies, and just better movies somewhat like this that are good. Maybe Burton was going for a sloppy work of art. I went in expecting to be wowed by his art, as I have on so many other previous occasions. Not this time. Dark Shadows was just a sloppy mess.