"Dark Shadows" disappoints with lack of substance
Gothic sensibility and offbeat humor run rampant in “Dark Shadows,” one of the best-looking Tim Burton films to date. What a shame that it had no substance to back it up. Burton’s films have been revered in the past, including such classics as “Beetlejuice,” “Ed Wood,” “Edward Scissorhands” and “Big Fish.” His recent work seems more recycled, renewing the likes of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Sweeney Todd” and “Alice in Wonderland” in an attempt to put his own clever spin on them. However, the only real mark he’s made on any of these original classics is his quirky use of Johnny Depp, who has appeared in nine of Burton’s films. Depp is indeed charming in roles like Willy Wonka, Sweeney Todd and the Mad Hatter. Still, a film must ride on more than just the coattails of its leading man.
Depp stars as vampire heir in Burton remake
In “Dark Shadows,” Depp embodies Barnabas Collins, the young and wealthy heir to an 18th century Maine-based fishing company, who is turned into a blood-sucking vampire and buried alive — only to be awakened nearly two centuries later. Barnabas made the grave mistake of breaking the heart of Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) in his pursuit of Josette DuPres (Bella Heathcote), his undying love. The despicable Angelique — who turns out to be a witch in every sense of the word — causes the death of Josette, curses the Collins family and transforms Barnabas into a vampire, intending to seal him in a casket for all eternity. In 1972, a group of construction workers in Collinsport, Maine accidentally uncover the casket and release Barnabas. Unfortunately for them, he has developed a vampire’s hunger during his captivity.
Tracking the way back to his old home of Collinwood Manor, Barnabas discovers his descendants in a decrepit version of the once-glorious estate. There is Elizabeth Collins (Michelle Pfeiffer), Roger Collins (Johnny Lee Miller), Carolyn Collins (Chloe Grace Moretz), David Collins (Gully McGrath) and the live-in family psychologist Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter). Elizabeth runs the family fishing business and fortune, which has fallen from grace considerably. Roger is useless and witless as her brother, and his son David is pretentious to say the least; Carolyn is a stereotypically resistant teenage girl, and Julia Hoffman seems more inane even than Roger. The state of the Collins family is an echo of Angelique’s curse two centuries before.
Despite their sorry state, Barnabas displays great affection toward his family and seeks to restore the Collins name to its former glory. This is easier said than done after it’s revealed that Angelique Bouchard, looking as young as the day she destroyed Barnabas’ life, has created her own rival fishing company that’s running the Collins fortune into bankruptcy. What’s more: When she discovers Barnabas has been released from his coffin, she vows revenge — by winning his affections. This supplies a seemingly never-ending series of attempts at seduction. Angelique spares no flirtatious tactic, resorting even to a sexy, supernatural wrestling match between her and the resistant Barnabas.
Film lacks feeling despite visuals
“Dark Shadows” was originally an American gothic soap opera that aired on ABC from 1966 - 1971. It seemed to be right up Burton’s ally. However, while he was able to pull off some breathtaking visuals in set design and CGI-overlay, it takes more than a striking sense of composition to sell a movie. “Dark Shadows” lacked the charm that I’d assumed it would have. The chemistry between the characters was hollow, even in the sometimes overly-erotic encounters between Barnabas and Angelique. I believe Burton was aiming for quirky but came up dry, and while Seth Grahame-Smith’s script was witty, it had little time to breathe amid Burton’s cluttered and often bizarre set pieces. And perhaps the most contrived part of the whole thing was the clear vehicle it was for Depp, who needs no support in making a role his own. A good example of this is the actor’s relationship with director Gore Verbinski, who used Depp’s valuable charisma as a catalyst in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films rather than exploiting it as Burton seems to be doing in “Dark Shadows.”
I wish I could say that “Dark Shadows” was an enjoyable ride in compensation for its lack of narrative essence, but even on an entertainment level it never got beyond second gear. Individually, the performances were decent. Green is the liveliest of them as the lustful, maniacal Angelique; Bonham Carter is borderline hilarious as the inept Dr. Hoffman. Depp played Barnabas with great intensity and at a consistent pace. However, neither these small praises nor the impressive look of the film made up for its genuine lack of “feel.”