Like most of director Tim Burton‘s work Dark Shadows, a humorous hyper-melodramatic update of the 1960′s television show of the same name, gives us an offbeat sense of humor and the macabre, Johnny Depp, and a big-eyed, pale-skinned, waifish young leading lady. Dark Shadows certainly isn’t going to rank among the director’s biggest successes (Sweeney Todd, Ed Wood, Edward Scissorhands), but for most of it’s running time it finds a way to entertain by showcasing a tale of an 18th Century vampire thrust into the 1970′s.
200 years after being buried alive by the witch (Eva Green) who cursed him and left him to rot, Barnabas Collins (Depp) is freed from his coffin by a group of construction workers making way for a McDonald’s. Confused by the nature of the new world, Barnabas makes his way to his ancestral home where he meets his descendants Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), Carolyn (Chloë Grace Moretz) and David (Gulliver McGrath).
The years haven’t been kind to the family which built the town of Collinsworth on their massive fishing fleet. Since his disappearance the Collins family has slowly lost money, position, and prestige to a rival fishing conglomerate run by the same spurned witch (Green) who cursed Barnabas into a vampire, killed the woman he loved, and later buried him alive when he was unable to return her affections. For 200 years she continued her revenge by slowly destroying the Collins family.
The film certainly doesn’t shy away from soap opera themes from the original televisions show. Burton’s version revels in its melodrama, trying to both celebrate and make fun of itself at the same time. The film also gives us an impressive, though forced, big-budget action sequence climax that visually works well but doesn’t really fit the tone of the rest of the movie.
Dark Shadows certainly has an intriguing look and feel. The mix of 70′s style, a gothic estate complete with secret passageways, and fish canneries isn’t one you’re likely to find in another film this year. The design of the Collins Estate was my favorite, although even in montage we only see the a handful of its rooms and passageways. Style, however, has never been Burton’s trouble.
For a film about love scorned, blood, and vampires, Dark Shadows is definitely lacking heart. Depp has far more chemistry with Green than Bella Heathcote (playing the vampire’s old and potential new love interests). Sure, Barnabas is humorous as the vampire out of his element, Green is terrifically wicked, and there are scattered small but fun performances from the likes of Jackie Earle Haley, Jonny Lee Miller and even Alice Cooper, but we don’t really care what happens to any of them. Yes, it’s fun watching the zaniness ensue, but we’re never invested in any of the characters nor the outcome.
Knowing Burton, there are also some curious choices that don’t entirely pan out. Helena Bonham Carter is mostly wasted in the role of the family’s doctor (although she might be far more interesting in a potential sequel), and 15 year-old Chloë Moretz (who was 14 when the film was shot) comes off a tad more sexualized than some members of the audience may be comfortable with.
Even as little more than a curiosity, Dark Shadows is still worth a look (mainly for Depp’s performance and the look of the film). It’s certainly not a movie you need to rush out and see in the theater, but as a rental, or eventually viewing it on cable, you may get your money’s worth.