Dark Shadows Review
Perhaps if you’re a fan of the original cult TV show, Dark Shadows might hold a smidgen of interest; for everyone else however, it’s somewhat of a gorgeous bore. The eighth collaboration between Tim Burton and Johnny Depp isn’t a complete disaster yet somewhere along the way, more focus was put on making everything look the part with little thought given to the story that plays out in the stunningly realised sets. As a result, Dark Shadows may hold the attention briefly but clocking in at an overlong 113 minutes, the threadbare plot will soon leave you wondering just how long you have left to endure.
Its central issue is that it’s just not that interesting once the fish-out-of-water gags have swiftly ran their course. As such, the opening is by far the strongest aspect of the film as we are filled in on the back-story of Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp), a man who spurned the wrong woman in the form of Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) who promptly kills everyone he loves and turns him into a vampire, before imprisoning him for two centuries. Awakening in 1972, Barnabas discovers his once-powerful family are in disarray and sets out to restore the family honour, not banking on Angelique – now running the Collins’ rival business – who’s intent to make Barnabas hers. It’s these scenes where Barnabas aims to find his way in a completely different world that show the most promise – one visual gag involving McDonalds is inspired – but there’s only so many times that Depp spouting old-fashioned dialogue and conveying surprise at new things is chucklesome; eventually it becomes rather tiresome.
This isn't Depp's fault however, who puts in a committed performance as usual and smartly play it completely straight, milking the most laughs out of his dialogue as is possible – the best moments have, however, already been shown in the trailer. Providing able support is Green who is an absolute blast as the dangerously seductive Angelique, with scenes between the two sharing a real spark. This eventually becomes an issue when the emotional drama starts in the third act as we’re supposed to want Barnabas to save Victoria (Bella Heathcote) – a reincarnation of Barnabas’ 18th-century love – but since so little time is spent setting this up, it’s hard to invest in it and arguably leaves us rooting for Barnabas and Angelique to get together. More time is spent fleshing out the central Collins family, they just rarely manage to become little more than one note. Michelle Pfeiffer comes the closest as fierce matriarch Elizabeth and Helena Bonham Carter is given the biggest arc as family psychiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman, but they make so little impact that when the film switches to the rebuilding of their empire from Barnabas and Angelique’s sparring, it drags painfully.
Dark Shadows isn’t completely without merit: the aforementioned production design from Rick Heinrichs and Colleen Atwood’s costume design rarely makes it dull to look at, and an excellent soundtrack featuring the likes of Donovan, The Carpenters and Alice Cooper - who also stars as himself - sparks up proceedings occasionally. The issue is that outside of these cosmetic flourishes, there’s little else to recommend it and its one central gag isn’t enough to sustain it over its running time. By the time Burton lets his visual flair runs riot in the action-packed climax, it’s too little to save a film that – for a Burton film – is curiously unexciting. Fans of the original series will have their patience rewarded with some choice cameos in the final third, and given that the previous Burton/Depp collaboration made over $1bn worldwide, who’s to say this won’t make money? Should this happen, it does contain a final scene that sets up a sequel; the question is, who would actually have the patience for a further helping?