Dark Shadows

dark shadows

If you’re not a fan of the TV cult classic, Tim Burton’s remake will do little to tempt you to it. Lush in design and fronted by Burton’s ever-capable leading man, Johnny Depp, Dark Shadows nevertheless feels oddly out of place, much like its main character Barnabas Collins, a 200 year old vampire who finds himself trying to navigate 1970s Maine. Neither as funny as the trailer suggests nor as spooky as Burton and Depp’s reputations promise, this movie floats uncomfortably between, desperate to give form to its lifeless skin.

Depp plays Barnabas, a member of the Collins family who establish a fishing enterprise in the late 1700s. In the haunting prologue, we see Barnabas reject a maid, Angelique (Eva Green), for Josette (Bella Heathcote). Angelique, who happens to be a witch, curses the couple. An entranced Josette plunges to her death and Barnabas transforms into a vampire, doomed to live his days pining for his lost love – but not before Angelique chains him inside a coffin.

Flash forward some two hundred years, and Barnabas is unwittingly released by curious construction workers. He makes for Collingwood Manor, the family estate which he is surprised to see has fallen into disrepair. And it’s not just the building that’s crumbling. The family business is in ruins and the industry is now dominated by Angel Bay Fishery. Plus, the Collins clan is in a bit of a shambles. Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), the family matriarch, can’t get a handle on her sulky teenage daughter Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz) while her selfish brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller) shows little affection for his son David (Gulliver McGrath), a disturbed boy under the care of live-in Dr. Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter).

Barnabas does his best to restore the family name and is met with moderate success and some help from Elizabeth and Carolyn. However, Angelique is still lurking around, now as the vampy owner of Angel Bay. When he recognizes David’s new governess Victoria (also played by Heathcote) as a reincarnated Josette, the three are set for an uncomfortable reunion.

There’s a lot of dressing up with nowhere to go in this movie. The humor tilts unevenly towards Barnabas the misplaced eccentric who holds antiquated ideas about women and marvels at lava lamps. Depp of course does oddball well, and I can think of few actors who can pull off regal pallor like he can. It’s delightful seeing Barnabas twitch through the modern world.

But overall, very little justifies the theatricality of the piece, which boasts great production design but skimps on character. Green manages a pitched performance as the spurned lover, but a few centuries of stewing hasn’t helped her decide what kind of relationship she actually wants with Barnabas. Christopher Lee all but disappears as an Angel Bay sea captain whom Barnabas tries to recruit and Miller is woefully underused. Even Bonham Carter, who has the most interesting role as a boozy psychiatrist with her own designs, shrinks from her scenes. Despite some a few bright spots, it seems Dark Shadows will probably stay there.

Released: 2012
Prod: Richard D. Zanuck, Graham King, Johnny Depp, Christi Dembrowski, David Kennedy
Dir: Tim Burton
Writer: Seth Grahame-Green
Cast: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Helena Bonham Carter, Jackie Earle Haley, Johnny Lee Miller, Chloe Grace Moretz, Bella Heathcote, Gulliver McGrath, Christopher Lee, Alice Cooper, Ray Shirley
Time: 113 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2015

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