Dark Shadows marks the eighth movie that director Tim Burton and actor Johnny Depp have made together and it’s not very good. I know blunt right, but it isn’t. The film is an adaptation of “Dark Shadows,” the 1966 cult supernatural TV show. It starts off good but just ends in a giant mess.
Johnny Depp plays Barnabas Collins, who is the heir to a prosperous fishing company. In 1752, Barnabas is cursed by the witch Angelique (Eva Green) after he broke her heart and fell for Josette (Bella Heathcote), his one true love. Angelique’s spell causes Josette’s death and turns Barnabas into a vampire. She chains Barnabas up and buries him alive in a coffin for over two centuries. Safe to say, Barnabas is unintentionally released from his grave, to find himself in the world of 1972. He returns to his family estate of Collinwood, where he meets his descendants. He pretends to be a distant relative who has come to help the struggling family and company return to prosperity. All while trying to keep his true identity a secret from them.
Dark Shadows might have one of Burton’s best ensemble yet. You have the matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer), her children Carolyn and David (Chloe Moretz and Gulliver McGrath), her brother Roger Collins (Jonny Lee Miller), the family’s live-in psychiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Cater), caretaker Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley) and David’s new governess (Heathcote), who looks exactly like Barnabas’ past love Josette.
The cast is great but Depp’s Barnabas is the only character who has any sort of development or arc. All the actors give out strong performances but again, besides Depp, they don’t do much but exist. None of the characters are ever explored and there are elements to certain characters that just come out of left field.
Take for example, the two kids Carolyn and David. Carolyn has this twist to her character that comes right at the end and out of nowhere and ends just as quickly. It is never explored and begs the question of why it was even introduced. They never even give an explanation for it, just the line, “…deal with it.” David’s story is just like Carolyn’s, underwhelming. This is a kid who is supposed to have problems so big that it required two different people, Dr. Hoffman and Victoria, to the family home to care for him. They spend practically no time with him nor any time caring for him. All of it ends up being exposition that leads nowhere.
Besides Barnabas, the women of the film are the real reason to watch it. Pfeiffer is solid but the real standouts of the film are Helena Bonham Carter, as the bitter shrink and Eva Green, as the obsessed witch, whose love for Barnabas and disdain for the Collins knows no bounds. You can clearly see these two ladies are having fun in their roles and are totally going for it, even when the script forgets about them.
The one real problem amongst the cast is Heathcote’s Victoria. Her performance is not the issue, the issue is that the film completely forgets about her halfway through. She is introduced before any of the members of Collin family but once Depp is released onscreen she is soon forgotten, only to be remembered right at the very end. Even at the end their romantic subplot is completely shoe-horned and doesn’t come out of any natural development. We’re expected to believe many things about their relationship but there is zero onscreen development of it.
Dark Shadows is based on a TV show but while most ensemble shows would develop all of it’s characters, instead the film puts all its emphasis on Depp’s Barnabas. It’s a good thing that both Depp and Burton absolutely nail the character. Straddling the line between humour and darkness as only Burton know how too. You will enjoy his character even if you won’t enjoy the film as whole. The best and most funny parts of the film is when Depp’s character reacts to the world around him but even that doesn’t last long, as he begins to get used to everything.
Dark Shadows is oddly charming but it is a mess, nonetheless. It isn’t scary enough to be horror and it isn’t funny enough to be a comedy. It’s just weird and it’s that weirdness that kept me watching it. I can’t recommend Dark Shadows but it’s out there if you want to watch it. Although, I recommend you spend your time watching something else.
Score: 4.5 out of 10