Dark Shadows is a film directed by Tim Burton, which naturally means it’s starring Johnny Depp, and is based on the “gothic soap opera” of the late 60s and early 70s of the same name. But is Dark Shadows a new Tim Burton classic? Or was it better left in the shadows?
Dark Shadows tells the story of Barnabas Collins (Depp), a man from a wealthy family who founded the town of Collinsport. In the eighteenth century, Collins “broke the heart” of Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), one of the family’s servants who terns out to be a witch. Scorned, Angelique curses Barnabas and his family. The curse kills his parents, and causes the woman he loves to throw herself off a cliff. Barnabas attempts to jump off the cliff himself, no longer able to live with the pain Angelique has caused him, but the fall doesn’t kill him, as Angelique has cursed him to become a vampire, so that he might suffer for eternity.
Angelique then prompts the townspeople to hunt down the vampire. They seal him in a coffin and bury him, where he remains for two-hundred years before being dug up by construction workers in the 1970s (where the rest of the story takes place).
In this time, there are four Collins: Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer), the family matriarch, Roger Collins (Jonny Lee Miller), Elizabeth’s brother, Carolyn Stoddard (Chloe Grace Mortez), Elizabeth’s daughter, and David Collins (Gulliver McGraff), Roger’s son, who claims he can speak with his deceased mother.
The family’s servants also come into play, with David’s governess, Victoria “Vicky” Winters (Bella Heathcote), bears a resemblance to Barnabas’ lost love, instantly making her his romantic interest. There’s also the family’s “live-in” psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) and their manor’s caretaker, Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley), who, aside from Barnabas, are the film’s best characters.
Barnabas, naturally, finds his way back to his old manor so that he might become part of the family again. He discovers the family’s name is less prestigious than it once was, and seeks to bring the Collins’ name and business back into relevance, all while preventing the still vengeful Angelique’s wrath from further destroying his family.
I enjoyed the premise enough, and the performances are all spot-on (Depp, as always, is a show-stealer), yet strangely, I didn’t care too much for the movie.
The dialogue leaves a lot to be desired, but the biggest misstep in Dark Shadows is in its directing. This certainly won’t be the popular opinion, but I feel Tim Burton is a bit Tim Burtoned-out. There’s never a constant flow of style in Dark Shadows’ narrative. Its story is told in broken episodes, most of which seem like they can’t decide if they’re going for horror, romance, comedy or campiness. And in that confusion, they rarely succeed with the desired effect.
And that’s not to mention that, aside from Barnabas and Angelique, the movie forgets its characters too often. The actors are all capable enough, but they mean less than they should when the movie itself chooses not to fully explore them. The romance between Barnabas and Victoria seems to have no meaning other than Victoria looks like Barnabas’ lost love, and it ends up feeling flat. Carolyn hides a secret of her own, but its revelation has little (if any) impact on the story when all is said and done. And then there’s David, who the movie forgets so often you go from pitying him to forgetting he was ever there.
Dark Shadows leaves the impression that Tim Burton is becoming a slave to his own game. Tim Burton’s films often have a unique style and imagination about them, such was the case with Edward Scissorhands or Big Fish or even his two Batman films. But it feels like a growing trend that Burton is simply being weird for weird’s sake. The heart of the story, characters and creativity make way for fancy visuals. Dark Shadows feels, more or less, like Tim Burton going through the motions. The style without the substance.
“They tried stoning me once, but it did not work.”