Based on the supernatural soap opera created by Dan Curtis, Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows is the perfect example of style over substance. The look of the picture is sometimes superb and even sexy, but everything else lies either neglected or in tatters. The story is bland, the characters are remarkably dull and the jokes fall flatter than Mitt Romney’s personality.
Burton directs a screenplay written by Seth Grahame-Smith. The studio acquired the rights to Curtis’ universe in 2007 and put Burton together with Johnny Depp again, with the latter long wanting to star as the stiff Barnabas Collins. Dark Shadows was initially delayed by the writer’s strike that commenced in 2007 and perhaps should’ve stayed on the shelf.
The film opens in 1760 Liverpool with the Collins family heading to America to set up a fishing port in Maine. It is called Collinsport. Years later Barnabas Collins (Depp) seduces Angelique (Eva Green), the family maid/witch, but he doesn’t love her. This pisses off the maid/witch and she takes out her wrath on the Collins family, offing Barnabas’ parents and eventually turning him into a vampire.
Barnabas is buried alive thanks to an angry mob and 196 years pass. He is freed accidentally from his coffin in 1972 and seeks out the Collins family, joining them to rescue their reputation. Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer) tries to keep Barnabas’ vampirism a secret, while the Angelique has created a rival fishery to sweep the Collins family out to sea once and for all.
Dark Shadows is full of potentially great characters, from the psychiatrist (Helena Bonham Carter) with a drinking problem to the rebellious and sly teenager (Chloë Grace Moretz). As game as the actors are, the screenplay doesn’t give them much to do and the movie’s topsy-turvy tone creates a tangled, slapdash tone with which to work.
At this point and time, the Depp/Burton partnership is well-established. The look of their output is generally easy to spot from miles away and the distinctive visual style of the director is sleek and shadowy. With Dark Shadows, it’s more of the same. There are moments that seem ripe with potential, like a sex scene between Barnabas and Angelique, but they accomplish little of consequence.
Green is the sexual and soapy centre of Dark Shadows, without question, but Depp is too interested in mugging for the camera to work off his co-star(s) properly. He is as hammy as ever, earning his stripes as a solid but generally overrated character actor. With pale make-up and paler range, Depp painfully cascades between fascination and alarm without much middle ground.
On the plus side, the look of the picture is adequate. The Collins mansion is notable, with artistic flavour and Gothic sensibility stealing scenes. More should have been made of the backdrop and the weird world the Collins’ live in, as there doubtlessly are plenty of captivating caverns and surreptitious passages to discover.
Unfortunately, Dark Shadows is an arid exercise in horror comedy. It is a second-rate recreation of soap opera lore, a bloodless outing lacking in vitality, absurdity and integrity. Despite its attractive set design and a good overall look, there’s nothing much to Burton’s 2012 entry beyond Green’s inspiring cleavage and Alice Cooper and Christopher Lee cameos.