Movie Reviews & Interviews from Washington

‘Dark Shadows’ Review: Depp Can’t Save Wounded Plot

There’s something special about the gothic, gloomy and melancholy feel of a Tim Burton film. Whether it’s the stunning snowy backdrop of the modern day fairy tale and the first Burton/Depp collaboration, Edward Scissorhands or the hypnotic musical set in London starring a crazed barber, Sweeney Todd, we always walk out of the theatre knowing we’ve seen something. When it comes to Dark Shadows, we leave the movie knowing that we’ve just seen something, we’re just not sure what exactly it was.

Dark Shadows is based on the late ’60s television soap opera of the same name. From what I’ve gathered, the original show was dramatic, intense, with a touch of horror, whereas Burton’s film features jokes, punchlines and campy fun.

The film begins in 18th-century Maine, where we are introduced to Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp), a man born into a life of luxury in the town of Collinsport, named after his family. A house servant and witch Angelique (played colorfully by Eva Green) falls in love with Barnabas and they have a short fling. But when Barnabas falls in love with Josette (Bella Heathcote), Angelique puts a curse on Barnabas which transforms him into a vampire, making him eternally suffer underground in a coffin.

Two-hundred years later it’s 1972 and construction workers stumble across the mysterious coffin not far from Collinwood Manor. Barnabas emerges, walks to his home and meets his new family with consists of Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer), her daughter Carolyn (Chloe Moretz), Roger Collins (Johnny Lee Miller) and his son David (Gulliver McGrath). There’s also a housekeeper, Willie (Jackie Earle Haley), a psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) and a governess, Victoria (also played by Bella Heathcote), who reminds Barnabas of his dear Josette.

Angelique has taken over the town of Collinsport over the years, as different versions of her ageless self, and when she comes to the realization that Barnabas has returned, she reverts back to her tricky schemes in making his life miserable.

The plot is convoluted in that we question if its a drama, a comedy or a parody, when in fact, it’s a little bit of everything, which doesn’t work for this vampire story. Will fans of the original TV show like it? My guess is probably not. This film was catered to Depp fans and why not make one last vampire film while the craze is still hot?

With that being said, Depp is amazing in the role and plays the Edwardian-like vampire perfectly. It’s fun to see Barnabas not only adjust to his new family, but to the life in the early ’70s. There is one scene in particular where Barnabas is surrounded by a group of hippies and speaks to them about his first love, which is sure to bring a laugh or two out of anyone.

As an avid Burton fan, it’s hard to completely dislike the film because I appreciate what he’s done here. But it’s certainly doesn’t qualigy as one of his standout films. It trumps Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but no where nearly as good as Sleepy Hollow or Sweeney Todd.

Dark Shadows is a beautifully shot dark comedy that features an incredible performance by Depp, but the plot falls flat about halfway in the film.

Kevin McCarthy from interviews Tim Burton, Michelle Pfeiffer, Chloe Grace Moretz, Bella Heathcote, Eva Green, Johnny Lee Miller and Jackie Earle Haley.


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