Today: February 26, 2024

Dark Shadows

Yet another tedious entry in

Yet another tedious
entry in his catalogue of cod-gothic adaptations, little ray of sunshine Tim
Burton’s dusting off of Dan Curtis’ morbid late ‘60s/early ‘70s soap opera
looks like it was immensely good fun to film but is overflowing with subplots
and sub-characters to the point of supreme silliness.

It’s 1972 in the small fishing town of Collinsport and Bella Heathcote’s Victoria arrives at
the Collins family home, Collinwood, in pursuit of a governess job. After a
brief introduction to Collinwood’s quirky freakazoid inhabitants (it is a Tim
Burton film set in the ‘70s after all) this narrative is promptly abandoned
after the awakening of vampire ancestor/proto-emo Barnabas Collins (Johnny
Depp
) buried alive for 200 years. Depp had been a fan of the TV show
since childhood and plays the egomaniac turned vampire with grotesque relish.
Given a meatier back-story, Depp might have made this an enjoyable watch but
the pre-credits, slap-dash peek into his past which sees the gaunt heir wrong a
servant, who also just happens to be a witch (a bewitching Eva Green),
who then reaps revenge on Collins and his loved ones, results in your typical
Burton-Depp collaboration of flourishes, scowls and wry musings and not much
else.

The odd residents of Collinwood all bring their own form of
chaos to the table. Young David Collins (Gulliver
McGrath
) believes in ghosts and troubles his immoral, ne’er-do-well father
Roger (Jonny Lee Miller) and
chiselled aunt Elizabeth (Michelle
Pfeifer
) so much that they turn to alcoholic live-in psychiatrist Dr
Hoffman (Burton’s wifey Helena Bonham
Carter
). Chloë
Moretz
continues to defy sugar and spice and all things nice as sullen
teenager Carolyn who’s hiding a secret.
As is governess Victoria. The only seemingly untroubled denizen of Collinwood
is Jackie Earle Haley’s caretaker
Willie Loomis who pads around the mansion halls with wasteful irrelevance.

Cutting through the bedlam is Eva Green as the woman scorned, adapting to the disco decade with
ease, ruling the town and keeping the Collins’ in the dark. Opposite Depp she
is every bit the siren but with Barnabas singing all the good lines there’s
only so much for her to do and most of that involves gaping out of her Jessica
Rabbit dress.

Depp’s presence and the occasional quips aside, Dark
Shadows
is a bit of a mess. Keen to incorporate the premise of a
soap opera into a motion picture, Burton has shattered the plot into tiny
pieces, causing characters to disappear for scenes on end, pop up momentarily
and disappear again until the final showdown. The cast are pitifully knocked
aside which is a real shame; Moretz, moody though she may be, is always
pleasing to watch, Lee Miller’s lead in Danny
Boyle’s
stage adaptation of Frankenstein won him an Olivier Award and
Haley’s the most memorable thing in most things he’s in. Yet Burton squanders them shamefully, making
it hard to care about their characters, preferring instead to lovingly devote
even more screen time to muse Depp.

Obviously with Burton at the helm Dark Shadows at
least looks great. Amelie cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel also applies
his rosy filters to the film’s comfortingly lavish settings and promising title
sequence. For a feature promising a darkly comic tale of family strife Dark Shadows falls desperately short, shunning character
and story for an ode to Johnny Depp, creating a sadly forgettable, panto
experience.

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