Dark Shadows movie review – Johnny Depp and Tim Burton let the show run away

Posted on 12 May 2012
By Camilla McNatty
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Dark Shadows will please the loyal hordes of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp fans looking for the comfort blanket of outsider characters and gothic humour, that they have now perfected.

But the film fails to explore its full potential and delve deeper into the world of monters and their inner struggles, being too easily satisfied with the impressive special effects and a spattering of dark humour.

The eighth cinematic collaboration between Burton and Depp is an adaptation of a 1960’s cult US drama they both adore and it promises a degree of antiquarian horror from the outset.

Opening in the dirty port of Liverpool in 1760, the wealthy Collins family travel to Maine seeking to secure their family’s status by building a successful shipping port, in a town which adopts the title of Collinsport.

We see young Barnabus Collins cast a lasting glance at his servant girl Angelique as he boards the ship to his future life, giving the audience an indication of the importance of their relationship as her mother scorns her for returning the gaze and tells her to ‘mind her place.’

Angelique grows to become a lustful figure for Byronian Barnabus, but is then casually cast aside for a rich young lady of the aristocracy.

Spurned peasant Angelique reveals herself to be an alluring witch, who seeking revenge, turns Barnabus into a vampire and buries him in a metal coffin for 200 years.

Fast forward to the title sequence featuring new governess Victoria (Bella Heathcote) travelling to Collinsport to take care of disturbed orphan David and the sudden upswing in mood change and 70s soundtrack, indicates any elements of real gothic horror have dissolved.

Having been ‘exhumed’ in what is now 1972 and giving himself a tour of the town, a beleaguered Barnabus returns to his once majestic manor, determined to restore the honour of the Collins family and rebuild their fishing empire.

With a family consisting of matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), unruly teen Carolyn (Chloë Grace Moretz) and haunted child David (Gulliver McGrath), charismatic and simultaneously, awkwardly camp Johnny Depp slides straight into this dysfunctional family.

Beautiful Eva Green plays a re-invented Angelique, who spends the movie attempting to win back the affections of Barnabus, causing and exciting destruction where-ever she goes.

In comparison to the character of Victoria, who becomes the spineless and uniteresting object of Barnabus’ love, Green carries the film single-handedly, skillfully harrassing the Collins tribe at every opportunity.

The most alluring character is Dr Julia Hoffman, played by Helena Botham Carter, who brings the narrative slightly more on course, but fails to offer any humour past her luminous orange curls and drunken nature.

Michelle Pfeiffer’s talents are ultimately wasted on this psedo-gothic drama and she is never allowed to excel past Depp’s exaggerated cheekbones and attempted black humour.

There are a few moments of laughter, mainly derived from the cultural differences which beseige the family, yet they ultimately fall flat.

A cameo performance from Alice Cooper, at a party they throw to win over the townsfolk, leaves Barnabus convinced Alice is ‘a she’ – but the joke loses its strength in overzealous repetition.

The stunning visual effects have the most impact in the final sequence, when the Collins mansion comes to life; the expensive stone carvings turn on Barnabus from the spell of Angelique and the house embodies Burton’s core aesthetics.

The stunning beauty of Angelique and Depp’s charm, despite the fangs and white makeup, help keep the film visually enticing, and it is certainly easier on the eye than the stark contrasts of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and mad Alice in Wonderland.

Yet unfortunately, the film lacks a consistent narrative and the audience are left wondering how the opening back story still relates to the main body of the film. It is as though Burton has attempted to condense the best plots from his favourite multi-series drama, into one feature film.

Depp also falls a little flat, especially towards the end and his overtly camp nature creates a few cringeworthy moments.

Burton and Depp’s obvious love for the original series, allows them to get carried away with the homage – risking the support of the audience, who can feel they are not being considered in the overall experience.

Dark Shadows is out now – for Liverpool Odeon One cinema times… http://www.odeon.co.uk/fanatic/film_times/s171/Liverpool_ONE/