Directed by Tim Burton
For his latest big screen adaptation Tim Burton sets his sights on reviving the popular Gothic serial drama “Dark Shadows”, which reigned over daytime television from 1966 to 1971. The director reteams with frequent collaborator Johnny Depp, who stars as cursed vampire Barnabas Collins, a handsome man of wealth who makes the mistake of spurning the love of an ageless witch named Angelique (Green) and suffers for it by being buried alive for some 200 years.
When Barnabas breaks free, he’s met by the year 1972 and must quickly adjust to this new era filled with oversized troll dolls, lava lamps, platform shoes and polyester. Shortly after his release he discovers that Angelique is not only still alive, but she’s spent the last few hundred years making it her business to ruin the Collinses’ good name, which leaves him none too pleased.
After returning to his once grandiose estate, Barnabas is greeted by a home in disrepair as well as few of his distant relatives including matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Pfeiffer); her daughter, Carolyn (Moretz); her nefarious brother, Roger (Miller); his troubled young son, David (Gulliver McGrath); David’s caretaker, Victoria (Heathcote) and his psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffman (Bonham Carter), as well as the wise-cracking but ever faithful groundskeeper named Willie (Haley).
Determined to bring honor back to the Collins name, Barnabas quickly puts a plan into motion, which only fuels Angelique’s fire, and soon the witch sets out to finally put an end to her object of obsession as well as destroy everyone and everything he cares about, too.
After creating some of the most imaginative films of the 80’s and 90’s including Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood and Mars Attacks!, Burton has seemed to settle into some sort of mumbly, ham-fistedness while tackling his adaptations as of late, and while Dark Shadows is certainly nowhere nearly as bad as, say, his Planet of the Apes remake, it’s not even close to being one of the director’s better efforts either. It’s just somewhere right in the middle, safely where Burton likes to dabble these days (unfortunately).
The biggest issue surrounding Dark Shadows is the script by Seth Grahame-Smith; it plays everything about Barnabas’ anachronistic arrival in the year 1972 with the proverbial wink and nudge approach, which doesn’t blend well with the melodramatic atmosphere that’s also at play in the flick. The film also struggles to find its tone throughout much of the first and second acts, and by the time you think Dark Shadows has finally found its footing, Grahame-Smith’s script derails in the third act into one hot mess of a conclusion. Thankfully, it has some entertaining moments involving the Collinwood estate that feel a bit like “Haunted Mansion” come to life, which keeps things interesting beyond the ho-hum ending.
The performances in Dark Shadows certainly save the film from itself; Depp is his usual immersive and charming self and plays Barnabas as a loving homage to previous vampires including the original Barnabas, Jonathan Frid, as well as Nosferatu and Lugosi’s Dracula. Pfeiffer turns in a strong performance as the tough-as-nails Elizabeth, who will go to any length to protect her family; Miller (who is always a welcome sight) is enjoyable as the smarmy Roger and Moretz plays the tormented teenager role to a ‘T.’ Green’s turn as Angelique is a bit too over-the-top, but the actress throws herself into the role with so much reckless enthusiasm that you can’t help but get drawn into her maniacal performance.
And while Burton’s direction may not be at its strongest in Dark Shadows, the director’s visual flair is certainly present and accounted for, with the flick highlighting the luscious color palette, the dream-like atmosphere and the meticulous attention to (often zany) detail that has become a signature of Burton’s work, making for a gorgeous looking movie.
Ultimately Dark Shadows is like one huge exercise in mediocrity with a few bright spots that save it from being a complete bore, which is a damn shame for fans out there who grew up loving either the original television series or Burton’s earlier work; the director definitely slides into his comfort zone on this one, never bringing anything new to the table or taking any sort of dramatic risks with his latest. Thankfully Burton assembled an insanely talented cast that elevates Grahame-Smith’s script, but overall there’s just nothing really special at all with this adaptation of one of the best genre shows ever.
Dark Shadows is not a bad movie by far and is not without its charms; it’s just really not a great movie and makes for another project that Burton has squandered any potential with by playing it too safe and forgetting what it’s like to take a popular property and reinvigorating it (like Sleepy Hollow). If the director does get to do a sequel, here’s hoping that it will involve a few more risks and a lot less hokeyness because even though Burton’s heart was in the right place on Dark Shadows, his creative directorial flair certainly was not.
2 1/2 out of 5