Dark Shadows: Burton’s Latest Film Falls Short

by Michelle McGlynn

There are no surprises to be found in Tim Burton’s latest offering Dark Shadows. Dark Shadows, a supernatural soap opera from the late sixties, is the latest text to receive the “Burton treatment”. The problem here is that the Burton treatment has become stagnant.

The prologue tells of how the Collins family moved from Liverpool to America. They built a successful business and an impressively large home. The Collins family are so important the town of Collinsport, Maine is named after them. However, when young Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) rejects the love of Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), she takes revenge. Barnabas is unaware that Angelique is a witch and she sets about using her powers to kill his parents and his fiancée. As the piéce de résistance, she turns poor Barnabas into a vampire and buries him chained up in a coffin to suffer eternally. A construction crew accidentally releases Barnabas over two hundred years later. He returns to his home that is now in severe disrepair and meets what is left of his family. The remnants of the Collins legacy include: Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer) the matriarch of the household, her wannabe rebellious daughter Carolyn (Chloë Grace Moretz), Elizabeth’s creep of a brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller) and his son David (Gulliver McGrath) who claims he sees the ghost of his mother. Also living in the house is the caretaker Willie (Jackie Earle Hayley), David’s live-in therapist, the alcoholic, pill popping Dr. Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) and David’s new governess, Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote) who bears a striking resemblance to Barnabas’s deceased fiancée Josette. Barnabas moves in with the family, with only Elizabeth aware of his secret. While he tries to come to grips with the new world he has found himself in, he also tries to restore the Collins family home, business and reputation. This proves to be a difficult feat as Angelique is the one who has brought about the family misfortunes. She is still alive and as beautiful and malevolent as ever. Angelique is determined that Barnabas will be hers or else suffer for eternity.

There is a lot going on here and somehow, simultaneously, there is not much going on. Burton attempts to cram in as many of the characters and subplots that are found in the original series’ 1,225 episodes. Both Burton and Depp have professed their love for Dark Shadows since their youth, but there is such a thing as being too true to the original. By trying to fit in all the elements of the original series, most of the subplots and secondary characters do not get the screen time needed for them to have any affect. The most prominent example of this is the twist provided to Carolyn’s character. Without the necessary time allowed for its development, the inclusion of it becomes pointless and a little frustrating.

The laughs in this film are few and far between. The majority of the comedy is predicated on someone from the eighteenth century attempting to navigate and come to terms with 1970s culture. These fish-out-of-water jokes are not even terribly clever but rather they are predictable and amateur. Many are saved by Depp’s performance, which lends the material some added humour.

Visually the film has a typically gothic feel and it is also as impressive as previous Burton films. But the film lacks a coherent plot and though an able cast has been brought together this stunts their performances.

Depp provides a characteristically great performance. It is just a performance we have seen before and know by heart.

Green holds her own in her scenes alongside Depp. She seems to relish the diabolical nature of her character and couples it with a bewitching charm.

Bonham Carter and Pfeiffer do well with their characters as does Heathcote.

Moretz is given the role of a permanently snarling and insolent teenager and does it well. But we have seen her do more and it is a shame to see her wasted here.

Some notable cameos include Alice Cooper as himself and Christopher Lee as a sea captain. Jonathan Frid, who originally played Barnabas in the television series, makes a brief appearance in the party sequence. Sadly, Frid passed away just weeks before the film’s premiere.

At just under two hours, you feel every minute pass. The entire film feels laboured. The shuffling in the seats and glances at watches implied that people were more concerned with when the film would end instead of how it would end. It seems that cinema’s love affair with the Burton/Depp duo has finally waned. They reached their pinnacle in 1994 with Ed Wood and have never really managed to reach such heights since. Dark Shadows is definitely the weakest of the eight collaborations and a sign that each man could benefit from broadening his repertoire.

There are die-hard Burton fans who will no doubt hail this film to be a work of genius. For those of us who can believe that Burton and Depp are not flawless, this will fall far short. This film is entertaining enough but that is about it.


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