I learned about Dark Shadows rather late in the proceedings. It was already about to open in local cinemas when I read about the movie online, and that it was yet another collaboration between Mr. Depp and Mr. Burton, who have already worked together in seven films since 1990’s Edward Scissorhands. In fact, it’s almost not a Time Burton film unless Johnny Depp is in it. Remember Mars Attacks!? Neither do I.
Dark Shadows, Tim Burton’s new film based on the gothic 70’s daytime soap, is one of those movies that I keep going back and forth about in my head. Like 21 Jump Street, I’m confused as to whether I like it’s odd combination of horror and campy fun. It’s nowhere near as cut and dried as John Carter or Breaking Dawn was for me.
Dark Shadows is the story of Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp), a guy who happens to think that family is the most important thing in the world. Cursed by a jealous lover (Eva Green), he witnesses the death of his fiancé (Bella Heathcote) and is then turned into a vampire so that he can live with that torment for eternity. If that wasn’t bad enough, he’s chained inside a coffin and buried by the people of Collinsport, the town that his family founded when they came over from Liverpool in the 1700’s.
Waking up in the 1970’s, Barney finds the last remaining descendants of the Collins family still living in the ancestral home, a great big mansion called Collinswood (which is of course, in Collinsport – you see what they did there?). Michelle Pfeiffer plays the matriarch of the family, while Jonny Lee Miller plays her smarmy brother. Chloë Grace Moretz and Gulliver McGrath round out the cast as the Collins children, Carolyn and David, while Helena Bonham Carter and Jackie Earle Haley play supporting roles as the family’s live-in psychiatrist and the mansion’s caretaker respectively. Barney is stunned at how far the Collins family has fallen and takes it upon himself to change their fortunes and bring their fishing business back from the brink.
Sounds pretty interesting, doesn’t it?
If the movie had played out like that, campy and light-hearted, like an episode of The Addams Family, it might have worked. However, there are so many complications in the plot that the heart of the story can’t be made out.
Eva Green’s Angelique is barely introduced. There’s a short scene during the intro where there’s a peasant girl looking at the young Barnabas. Later she’s with them in the new world and they’re having an affair, but he eventually rebuffs her. Oh, and hey, she’s also a witch.
There’s no real effort to build up their relationship or their conflict. It’s mostly just done through exposition, which is boring. Once the intro flashbacks are done, we’re introduced to the 1970’s Collinses and told that we’re supposed to be following them. Green doesn’t come back until later when she’s revealed as the owner of the rival fishing company that has taken over the town. At that point, the plight of the 70’s Collinses gets put on the back burner as the affair between Depp and Green starts again.
In fact, it’s never really clear where the audience is supposed to focus. Are we following the Barnabas/Angelique story? Or the Collins Fishing Company vs. Angel Bay issue? Are we supposed to care about David’s psychological problems? What’s the point of Carter’s Dr. Hoffman’s character? Wait what? Chloë Grace Moretz is a werewolf? When was that thread started?
These plot points feel like they’re just thrown in anywhere, and before you know it, they’re gone. Roger Collins basically does nothing in the film, and poof! He’s in a cab with his bags packed. Victoria Winters (Heathcote), who is Barnabas’ “true love”, is there merely as set decoration.
Looking at the movie after, it felt like there was just too much going on. If they had had 40 minutes a week to tackle each of the characters story arcs one at a time, it might have felt like easier going. It also might have helped with the tone of the film, which flips from silly to morose in the blink of an eye. One minute there’s a creepy ghost on screen the next Depp and Green are trading quips and ripping their clothes off.
I guess my hour or so of writing has decided for me my feelings about the film. While I enjoy anything with Johnny Depp in it, found the film funny and enjoyed the acting, it ultimately didn’t make my list of favorite Burton/Depp movies (still Sleepy Hollow, Sweeny Todd and Edward Scissorhands) due to the problems it had with tone and structure. I guess even guys like Tim Burton are allowed a few misses now and then.
He does get points for putting Chloë Grace Moretz in his movie. 15 years old… 15 years old…15 years old…