I marked this down as a “catch on disc” movie. Now it is, lets see if I was wrong to wait.
The latest collaboration between Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, Dark Shadows is based on a daily television series that started in 1966 and ran for 5 years, so Wikipedia informs me. With both Burton and Depp being fans of the original you can imagine they’ve been planning this film for a long time, if only in their minds. Written by John August (who has worked on quite a few of Burton’s recent projects) and Seth Grahame-Smith (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, another one I’m waiting for the disc) but you’d also assume a lot of input from the duo (Depton?).
A quick run-down on the plot: In 1752 a young Barnabas Collins arrives in the new world with his parents to set up in business. Years later with a successful business and large mansion Barnabas (Depp) is the equivalent of a modern playboy. He spurns the affections of a young maid (Eva Green). Claiming love for a “proper” lady. This is no ordinary maid however, she is a witch! Quite why she is working as a maid we’ll overlook. To teach Barnabas, using her witchly skills, a lesson, she enchants his love and has her fall off a cliff just as Barnabas tries to save her. Overaught, he throws himself over after her. However, not to his death as he planned. Angelique, said maid, curses him, turning him into a vampire and then gets the local villagers to bury him alive. 1972 and a work crew accidentally dig him up only for him to discover the downfall of the Collins family and fortune. And, the arrival of a new ward for the youngest present day Collins, who isn’t who she says.
The family dynamic has a very melodramatic style. To respect the source martial no doubt but, it seems trapped between trying to be both modern and true to the original. It never really settles on a feeling. It veers from genre to genre: Horror, family, comedy, melodrama, mystery. All very well and good if you can gel all those together, to my mind it doesn’t.
The most abrupt transition I found was the sex scene between Barnabas and Angelique. I had just re-settled into the family feeling vibe when, a semi-violent, semi-explicit and semi-comical coming together (as it were) throws me off kilter. Maybe it’s my own projection upon that scene but as a whole I felt confused as to what “mode” I was supposed to be watching in.
It reminded me somewhat of The Addams Family, possibly only for the family and gothic settings.
Depp plays Barnabas in the usual way that he seems to play most characters of this ilk. You have wonder if the Depton (no on the Depton?) duo isn’t a little played out. As if they are in a rut. A couple just happily tootling along. Eva Green has a great time, crewing the scenery when required and stands out the most, maybe that’s just personal preference on my part though. Chloë Moretz brings the unconformable teenage sexual awkwardness (or maybe it’s something else?) to the usual family dynamic. Michelle Pfeiffer plays the mother who’s main purpose seems to be to nudge the plot along every now and then. Helena Bonham Carter plays a live-in shrink for the young David Collins (Gulliver McGrath) who can see ghosts and so must be crazy or, is he? Everyone does a fine job with what they are given but it does feel a bit by the numbers.
As you would expect, this film has a wonderful gothic styling. Both muted and vibrant in colour, the cloths and decor of the 70s being a large visual part of the piece. Also, some great music from the era. I think I enjoyed the music the most.
As a Sunday afternoon film, Dark Shadows is fine. The end, apart from a sudden revelation that doesn’t bring much to the plot, is adequate. Mostly writ large, but agreeable enough nevertheless. All in all then, I was right to wait.
2.5/5 (Heart of glass)