Film Review: Dark Shadows

It’s quite possible Tim Burton’s illustrious career flashed before his eyes as he fell off the stage during a press conference for his latest film Dark Shadows in Japan.

Narrowly avoiding a ‘flat-on-his-arse’ moment, thanks to a vigilant staff member who swooped in to right the kooky director, Burton’s fall is spectacularly symbolic of his latest adaptation.

Like the peculiar shambles that was Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows is quite literally a dark shadow of (most of) Burton’s former work. Based on the 1960/70s daytime soap opera of the same name, Dark Shadows suffers identity crisis after identity crisis, perhaps only remedied by eventually throwing itself off the cliffs of Collinsport.

If it’s a tongue in cheek parody – it comes off as shallow. If it’s a melancholy gothic romance – it’s cold in the centre. If it’s the brainchild of Burton and producer/star Johnny Depp after sharing a few too many drinks one night while watching the original series on cable – then it explains the let-down.

Depp, in one of his most anaemic and solicitous roles to date, slips effortlessly into the character of Barnabas Collins before embarking on a seemingly long and pointless journey;  all two centuries worth.

The scene is set in 1752. The young Barnabas and parents set sail from Liverpool, England to lay down roots in the new world and future land of opportunity. Some two decades later the Collins family are self- made, wealthy and powerful, so much so that the town established after their arrival carries their namesake: Collinsport.

As heir apparent to the Collinwood estate, Barnabas is confident and narcissistic; a regular Don Juan with nothing to fear aside from the increasing likelihood of syphilis. But, as is the cautionary tale for all playboys, a hump too far proves to be his undoing.

Smitten Barnabas plaything Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), is left spurned and broken-hearted as he decides to sever all physical and emotional ties. What initially escapes the egotistical and inexperienced Barnabas is that Angelique is a powerful witch and who subsequently takes malevolence to a new level.

Cursing the Collins family with all her might, Angelique transforms Barnabas into a vampire before entombing and burying him with only the thoughts of past conquests to keep him company.

Fast-forward two centuries and Barnabas, none-the-worse for wear it seems, is inadvertently released into the perplexing world of 1972 America. Barnabas then goes on to prove that woman hath no fury like a vampire buried alive as he attempts to re-establish his legacy, sort out his dysfunctional Collins decedents, reacquaint himself with the now dilapidated Collinwood manor, spark an eerily familiar but new romance, regain the Collins fortune and ultimately exacting revenge on bitch-witch who after all this time is still kicking around the neighbourhood.

Strangely, these multiple subplots have little or no bearing on one another, leaving the viewer feeling underwhelmed and with more unnecessary questions than answers.

In Edward Scissorhands fashion, Burton drapes the feature with a melancholy and sinister atmosphere, brooding with potential. Where Scissorhands succeeded was Burton’s treatment of the poignancy of the protagonist’s predicament, while interspersing black comedy to timeous effect. Regrettably, Burton misses the mark this time, leaving the viewer to shamble from one curiously merged scene to another with little flow or continuity in terms of mood.

Burton’s direction grants Barnabas’s characterisation too much prominence, with the other characters afforded too little.  As Depp delightfully unpacks the character the overall story is left to drift, before running aground on the next scene, often leaving Depp’s interpretation at odds with weak narrative.

Green’s lusty and scornful Angelique remains consistent and enjoyable throughout – a worthy and contemptible villain for Depp’s protagonist.

The initially cast iron matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer) begins as a force to be reckoned with, but becomes increasingly feeble as time goes on.

Helena Bonham Carter’s portrayal of Dr Julia Hoffman is typically quirky and well rendered but has no direct consequence on the story, other than to perhaps be a link to a sequel, and could easily have been omitted all together.

The character of Roger Collins (Jonny Lee Miller) also appears to have been thrown in to make up the numbers as he has nothing more than wafer-thin bearing on the plot or story at any point.

The horrors of the never-ending Alice Cooper cameo needn’t be investigated at this point but suffice to say there was more whim than poison running through Burton’s veins to have retained so much of the aging rocker in the final cut.

Dark Shadows could have been significantly simplified with more cinematic focus and attention to narrative, coupled with a succinct and meaningful plot. Instead a flimsy storyline with too many avenues and too little backbone has been stretched to breaking point, leaving viewers feeling similarly empty and wrung out.

Cinematography, set, costume, lighting and CGI are to Burton’s usual impressive high standard, although in the final scenes Barnabas starts to look as though he’s been toilet washed in Dulux emulsion while the remaining characters seem in need of a good nap.

Dark Shadows is sufficient for an enjoyable, if not disjointed stop and start romp, but if you’re looking for heady narrative and a Burton film you’ll be keen to remember by the time you wake up the next day, then this Burton and Depp show is probably best avoided.

Frisco rating: 5/10

Frisco Rosso

With more tension than your mother’s suspension, I am Frisco Rosso. I’m likely to deliver a few lines worth at any given moment regarding film, music, sport, books and anything morally unsound that strikes a blow between the eyes in the name of entertainment.


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