Film Review: Dark Shadows

By Daniel Savage

Dark Shadows

Directed by: Tim Burton

Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green, Michelle Pfieffer, Chloe Moretz, Bella Heathcote

Based on the cult 60s/70s television show, Dark Shadows tells the story of Barnabas Collins (Depp).

Born into a wealthy family from Liverpool in the 1700s, he and his parents move to North America to establish a port and fishing empire.

In short order, Barnabas has broken the heart of a resident witch, been orphaned, seen his true love die, been turned into a vampire and buried in a coffin for two hundred years. Come the 1970’s, and he awakes to a very new world.

First and foremost, Dark Shadows is a fish out of water comedy.

Once Barnabas awakes, there is never too long between comic misunderstandings over the changes that have taken place since his burial, whether the technicalities of television or the existence of women doctors.

It’s all breezy enough, and Depp employs a winning take on his Jack Sparrow performance, permanently befuddled yet fastidiously polite. Classic gags are in short supply, but are of exceptional quality when they do appear (fair warning; the best joke in the film requires close attention during the prologue).

Taking their cue from Depp, most of the performances are similarly one-note, albeit one note played very skilfully.

Helena Bonham-Carter is entertaining as a drunken doctor, but Eva Green is the star performance as the villainous witch Angelique, only slightly less vampy than Barnabas himself.

The film really comes alive when she and Depp are given centre stage, and she acts everyone else off the screen.

The only weak note in the cast is Heathcote, playing Barnabas’ love interest, but in her defence she barely makes an appearance, despite a lengthy and misleading sequence that seems to set her up as the main protagonist.

After Barnabas’ revival however, she disappears for most of the film, which sadly undersells the idea that Barnabas has found his one true love once more.

It doesn’t help that her main romantic rival is the aforementioned Green, playing a much more lively character and consequentially much more entertaining.

Furthermore, while Depp’s performance is effective for most of the film, he rarely changes tone.

As a result, more serious and dramatic scenes are rendered ridiculous, and at times it feels like Burton has spliced two very different films together.

For one thing, this is a light comedy that is never afraid to remind you that its protagonist is a vampire – he might apologise, but he’ll still tear your throat out.

In fact, he has a higher on screen body count than half the named vampires in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and while Burton applies his one uniquely twisted genius to these scenes, they do feel somewhat out of place.

The same could be said for the surprisingly brutal climax – thrilling, to be sure, and arguably the only logical conclusion to the plot, but from a far more action packed film.

The climax also springs an eleventh hour twist for one character which comes out of absolutely nowhere and adds very little to the film.

In the end, the film is not quite the sum of its parts; amusing comedy on the one hand, surprisingly scary horror on the other, and they never quite mesh together well enough for it to be a classic.

However, there is never a bad moment in the film, and it is a more than acceptable way to pass a couple of hours.

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