Film Review – Dark Shadows

Dark Shadows (M)

Directed by: Tim Burton

Starring: Johnny Depp, Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter

Two and a half stars

Review by Julian Wright

With Dark Shadows marking the eighth Tim Burton/Johnny Depp collaboration, one might think they are on to a good thing. Financially, yes. Creatively, not so much. Their recent movies – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland – were box office monsters but were more miss than hit when it came to storytelling. This partnership that has spanned 22 years (beginning with Edward Scissorhands in 1990) may have peaked with box office gold but it seems the quality is fizzling out.

Not only is Dark Shadows a far cry from Burton’s gleefully inventive Beetlejuice (1988), but it even pales compared to his recent re-imaginings, ranking alongside Planet of the Apes as one of his most uninspired efforts. Not even his familiar playful gothic style can elevate this gloomy outing.

In the 1770’s, rich playboy Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) inadvertently breaks the heart of witch Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) who turns him into a vampire and sets the towns people onto him, who bury him. In a strange plot decision, he is uncovered in 1972 (why the 1970’s is not clear, but maybe one must look to the original source material, a TV series, for the answer) and must deal with social and technological changes.

Barnabas makes his way back to his run-down manor, which is inhabited by his kooky descendants including matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddart (Michelle Pfeiffer) who is struggling with the family fishing business slowly going under. Unusual sub-plots that seem like they belong in another film entirely include the new family governess Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcoat) who shares ghostly visions with Elizabeth’s nephew David (Gulliver McGrath) and his constantly hungover psychiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) who feels cursed by her fading looks. A messy plot is the most confusing element of this jumbled Addams Family wannabe.

Depp is, as usual, reliably delightful and brings so much more to his character than anyone else on the screen. He is a real asset to this project. Without his presence this would feel even longer and slower than it already is. There are some nice quips, and the whole thing is consistently amusing, just never laugh out loud hilarious. Burton’s sense of humour has developed a cheeky sexual edge, but again, it just feels like another element that is out of place here. With so many different pieces stitched together to make the story, this feels more like Frankenstein than a vampire film.

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