Movie Review: Dark Shadows
Weird, grotesque things attract Tim Burton like a moth to a flame. Right from Edward Scissorhands in 1990, his seminal, and frankly, best film to date, Burton’s filmography spells out cinematic oddities one after the other; be it a pre-Scissorhands film like Beetlejuice or his re-imaginings of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or his 2010 magical fantasy Alice in Wonderland. His repertoire also includes gothic horror films like Sleepy Hollow and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and somewhere in between the popular and somewhat different Big Fish.
Another man who shares Burton’s visions is Johnny Depp. One of the things Depp loves to do, when he isn’t being a pirate in maybe the daftest franchise of all times, is to repeatedly join his friend Burton in whatever project that is to be filmed next, especially eerie melodrama. This time around – the eighth collaboration between director and star – it’s the rather bizarre Dark Shadows and bizarre is an understatement in this case.
It’s the 1760s and playboy Barnabas Collins, heir to a wealthy family fortune built via a fishing business, breaks the heart of their servant Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), who in fact is a witch. She kills Barnabas’ true love Josette DuPres (Bella Heathcote) and turns him into a vampire; apparently that is quite possible, sans neck-biting. She then chains him up in a coffin and he is apparently doomed to eternity.
That is until 1972, when modern construction workers come across his coffin. Once freed, Barnabas finds his way to his old manor in the town of Colinsport, Maine, where the rich Collins family, his distant relatives now live and run the fading fishery (a great cast including Michelle Pfeiffer and Chloë Grace Moretz). There he also finds Dr Julia Hoffmann (Burton’s wife and regular collaborator Helena-Bonham Carter), a mysterious doctor to the young David Collins – she claims to see ghosts.
Barnabas, now a vampire, is confronted by his past in this contemporary setting. The young David’s governess, Victoria Winters, turns out be a reincarnation of sorts of his old love Josette (both played by Bella Heathcote) and Angelique, the witch who cursed Barnabas in the first place, is still around, and still lusting after Barnabas.
Dark Shadows is based on an equally strange, American gothic TV series of the same name from the late ’60s and early ’70s, which also featured odd creatures aplenty. The series produced over 1000, yes, 1000 episodes and so it’s a feat in itself to have adapted a two-hour film from those countless episodes. But, whether it’s a good film is another story altogether. While the first half is watchable due to the curiosity factor, it’s the second half, and especially the totally senseless and somewhat predictable climax, that makes viewing worse.
The film has some very good performances; Depp obviously but he’s always good. Eva Green as the evil witch is the real scene-stealer and the two actors make the most of a very patchy screenplay. Michelle Pfeiffer as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard does a great job of running the family home. Pfeiffer, apparently a closet fan of the original supernatural soap opera, called Burton herself when she found out the he was making the cinematic version of her favourite series. The cinematography is good throughout, especially some of the early sequences. It’s sad, because a better story and screenplay would have been a good combination alongside some consistently beautiful, scenic shots. In conclusion, this film is an acquired taste; fans of such films might just like it but if you really need a Burton fix, I suggest you go back and re-watch Edward Scissorhands or Big Fish, if you must.
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