Review: Dark Shadows
PLOT: After spurning the affections of his chambermaid/witch- Angelique (Eva Green), the aristocratic Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) is transformed into a vampire, and buried in a casket. Two hundred years later, in the year 1972, he's awakened- and returns to his family home, now belonging to his distant relatives; family matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), her ne'er-do-well brother, Roger (Jonny Lee Miller),, and his son David (Gulliver McGrath), along with her own daughter- the angsty Carolyn (Chloe Moretz)- not to mention the family psychiatrist, Dr. Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter). While getting to know his new family, Barnabas once again falls prey to the devious Angelique- who'll still stop at nothing to get him in her clutches.
REVIEW: Based on the wildly popular seventies soap (of which I've never seen a single episode) DARK SHADOWS is the long-awaited film debut of vampire hero anti-hero Barnabas Collins. To be sure, the idea of a gothic vampire tale directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp seems like the perfect match, but something has seemed off in the goofy trailers, that seemed to peg this as another BEETLEJUICE. With a script by Seth-Grahame-Smith (author of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES, & the soon-to-be-a-film ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER) you can reasonably assume that yes, DARK SHADOWS does contain lots of self-aware pop-culture infused humour- but it's a schizophrenic film.
The first two-thirds of the movie are actually pretty great, with it being more of a fish-out-of-water comedy than a horror film. Surprisingly, this approach works a lot better than the trailers would have you think. Of all the time-periods to wake up in, the early seventies would have no doubt been a scary time for the tasteful vamp. The early scenes showing Barnabas trying to fit in by reading 'Love Story', and hanging out with pot-smoking hippies are about as funny as anything in BEETLEJUICE, and throughout the first hour or so, the film is loads of fun.
Johnny Depp, not the most restrained of actors these days (but who doesn't love him for that?) seems to be having a ball as Barnabas, with his Nosferatu-like makeup, and aristocratic accent. Far from an undead Jack Sparrow, Depp makes Barnabas into yet another hilarious character, although I suspect he's quite different from the romantic anti-hero that I presume was depicted in the series. While he's probably too funny to be scary, Barnabas still does his share of bloodletting, and even picks up a Renfield-like assistant, played by Jackie Earle Haley.
As his nemesis, we get the deliriously sexy Eva Green. Thing is- I have a wild crush on Green, and ever since THE DREAMERS I've adored her. Green gets to show a surprising flair for physical comedy, and as always she's a sight to behold (although I prefer her with dark hair, rather than blond). Problem is, Green is so good opposite Depp, his real love interest, Bella Heathcoat (at 24- seeming rather young next to the forty-something Depp) doesn't really get much of a chance to establish herself. She's supposed to be the reincarnation of his lost love, but considering they have only a handful of scenes together, it's hard to accept that they're in love towards the end (it feels like chunks of their relationship were snipped out).
It's really only in the last forty minutes or so where most of the problems with DARK SHADOWS lie. Somewhere after Alice Cooper shows up in a cameo as himself, the film takes a surprisingly serious turn, and it seems that from this point, Burton wants us to accept this as a serious gothic-horror piece. It all ends in a flurry of special effects, and revelations, but after 2/3's of the film being totally tongue-in-cheek, the twist seems jarring, and doesn't quite work. Everything is wrapped up too neatly, which leaves the door open for a sequel (we'll see), but it doesn't quite gel, and all feels anti-climatic.
Nevertheless, even in this stretch, the film is still entertaining, and I found DARK SHADOWS to be far superior to some of the other more recent Depp-Burton pairings, especially ALICE IN WONDERLAND (although considering that it made a billion dollars, audiences seem to disagree with me). While it isn't near the level of EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, or ED WOOD (a great film), I still had a pretty swell time with DARK SHADOWS. If any of you out there want a little break from repeat screenings of THE AVENGERS (I imagine many of you will be seeing it again this weekend if you haven't already), DARK SHADOWS is fun- if not more than that.