The best thing I can say about Dark Shadows is that it’s a much better film than the execrable Alice in Wonderland, an abomination that showcased all of director Tim Burton’s worst tendencies as a filmmaker – over-the-top production design, quirky for the sake of quirky characters, exaggerated costumes, a non-existent story etc… Dark Shadows, which marks the director’s eighth collaboration with actor Johnny Depp isn’t as bad as that film but it shares many of its problems – prime among them being a disastrous script that squanders all the potential it promised during its first hour.
Based on the cult television series from the 1970s, Dark Shadows centers on Barnabas Collins (Depp), a rich young man in the 1770s who makes the mistake of leading on the wrong woman. That woman, Angelique (Eva Green) turns out to be a witch – a jealous one at that – who sends Barnabas’ young fiancé Josette (Bella Heathcote) to her death and curses him to live for eternity as a vampire.
Awaking 200 years later in the 1970s, Barnabas returns to his family home only to realize that his descendants – among them Michelle Pfieffer, Chloe Moretz, Helena Bonham Carter are a gaggle of washed up losers who have run the family business to the ground. Determined to bring the family name back to its glory, Barnabas has to once again face Angelique who is now the most powerful resident of the town.
For its first hour, Dark Shadows is humorous and largely enjoyable mostly due to a continuous stream of fish-out-water jokes, Burton’s ability to strike a balance between horror and comedy, and Depp’s dedicated performance – his most likable crackpot since the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Watching Depp imitate the style of Bela Lugosi and other old-school portrayals of vampires is humorous and even fresh in a time when vampires are portrayed as sexy, lusted-after creatures.
Alas, Depp’s shtick slowly begins to grow tired and repetitive when the time comes for the film’s plot to actually propel itself forward. Burton and screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith spend so much time setting up the characters that they forgot to include an actual plot. The lack of story proves disastrous as the film goes completely off-tangent in the last act, revealing all its holes. What’s worse is that it all leads to a disastrous climax where the characters start behaving uncharacteristically and in illogical ways. It’s one of the summer’s bigger disappointments.
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Seth Grahame Smith
Starring: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfieffer, Eva Green, Helena Bonham Carter
Rated: PG-13 (for comic horror violence, sexual content, some drug use, language and smoking)