Based on a low-budget Gothic soap opera from the mid-1960s, Tim Burton brings us Dark Shadows, the multi-million pound reimagining that reunites regular contributors Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter. Pitched as a Gothic comedy-horror, the film ses Barnabus Collins (Depp) an 18th Century playboy spurns the advances of Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) unaware that she is a witch and she promptly kills his love, Josette (Bella Heathcote) and curses him to become a vampire and buries him in chains.
A couple of centuries later and Barnabus is freed from his coffin by construction workers only to find himself in 1972. As he adapts to his new surroundings he returns to his manor to find his descendents Elizabeth (Michelle Pfieffer), Carolyn (Chloe Moretz) and David all suffering from various ailments and afflictions caused by the still vengeful Angelique who has taken over the town and almost bankrupt the family.
Tim Burton has always had an eye for Gothic storytelling and Dark Shadows is no exception. The sets are all dark and moody in appearance while the cast each have an element of luminous colour to them. It’s the prefect blend of Gothic and 1970s kitsch and Dark Shadows is one of the most appealing looking films in recent years. The soundtrack is also perfect with 1970s anthems blaring throughout that gives the film a sense of retro cool.
The plot of Dark Shadows is pure melodrama, which is a nice throwback to its origins. The plot, as much as there is one feels episodic and disjointed and a lot of the blame falls with Johnny Depp. While there is no doubt that Barnabus is Dark Shadows most entertaining character, the action would been served better to concentrate on newcomer Heathcote, whose Victoria appears to have the most interesting backstory and a greater story arc to complete. Yet after a strong opening she is immediately sidelined so that Depp and Green can fly around a room having sex.
The main problem is that Dark Shadows doesn’t know whether to position itself as a comedy or a horror and while it has decent elements of both, it falls into the trap of not fully being either. It’s too scary to be a proper comedy and it’s too silly to be a full-blooded horror. It would be nice to see Burton really cut loose with a horror film, because judging on the evidence here, he could make an incredibly creepy, atmospheric thrill-ride, providing he can hold back on his penchant for the ridiculous.
The rest of the cast do admirable with their glorified cameos, although Helena Bonham-Carter is completely wasted and Chloe Moretz clearly had a larger role before the film hit the cutting room. With little development of her character, the revelation about her is completely out of blue and horribly mishandled. Still with the little time she has, she perfectly encompasses the ‘moody teenager.’
Dark Shadows then must be considered a disappointment, with a subject perfectly fit to its director, an all-star cast of top-notch actors it feels flat and confusing. Characters disappear for vast portions of the action, just to reappear unexpectedly. Ensemble casts are difficult to manage, and while Joss Whedon and The Avengers (the other ensemble Hollywood film of 2012) hit all the right notes, Dark Shadows is a cacophony of Gothic themes with very little holding it all together.
Depp does his best in his role and the setting, atmosphere and soundtrack are fantastic, but in the end the narrative is a complete mess, which ruins the whole viewing experience. An homage to its past, Dark Shadows fails in all the same ways that the original show did, but then maybe that’s what Tim Burton was going for. A film for him and Johnny rather than for the rest of us.