You’ll be unsurprised to find that Dark Shadows is unmistakably Tim Burton-esque. From the gothic look and feel to the quirky characters and, of course, regular cast members like Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, this is Burton all over. And while that might satisfy the hardcore fans of the director who will follow him down every cinematic road he chooses to take, it is nonetheless a redundant exercise in self-indulgence and, quite frankly, laziness.
Based on the 1960s American Gothic soap opera of the same name, Dark Shadows follows Barnabas Collins (Depp), an affluent member of the renowned Collins family who is cursed by a witch (Eva Green) to be a vampire and imprisoned in a coffin for more than two centuries. In 1972 he is set free and then returns to his family home only to find that the times have very much changed and that the descendants of his family are in need of his help.
Burton hasn’t exactly been the most critically well-received director of the last decade (to say the least) but I’m not someone who finds everything he has done in that time period to be a complete waste of time (unashamedly I dig Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Big Fish and Sweeney Todd).But after the mess that was Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows was a real opportunity for Burton to return to form. Sadly that isn’t the case.
The main issue with the film is the wild misjudging of tone. Stumbling awkwardly between sitcom-esque comedy – the onslaught of set-up-punchline jokes are suffocating – and Burton’s usual brand of quirky darkness, the film has a serious case of personality disorder and never finds a sure footing to allow the family drama or the eccentric band of characters to work as they should.
Casting is a mixed bag, with some being film highlights (Chloe Grace Moretz in particular) but most being like jigsaw pieces that have found their way into the wrong box. The spotlight is obviously on Depp as vampire Barnabas and while a peculiar character and performance it nevertheless is predictable and actually quite boring. This is the 8th (that’s right 8th) time he has collaborated with Burton and, like his turn as the Mad Hatter in Alice in the Wonderland, his performance here is in many ways generic.
The film is not a complete wash, however. Visually it’s gorgeous, Bruno Delbonnel’s (Amelie, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) sumptuous cinematography bringing to life the Gothic world in a way that’s strangely beautiful – there’s a surprising amount of vividness for a film with a title like Dark Shadows. It does occasionally contain some effective scenes and, like I said, there are some highlight performances.
However, that doesn’t make up for the rest of the film. An ill-judged attempt at updating an ancient soap opera, clumsily mixing largely laugh-free gags (verbal and visual alike), completely ridiculous song choices and an ending that’s just plain terrible. Only Burton could have made this film and that’s true for all the wrong reasons.