Dark Shadows

Dark Shadows

***

Reviewed by: Lee Griffiths

Big on camp and high on adrenaline, Tim Burton’s atmospherically rich romp takes its cue from the bizarre soap opera antics of the largely unseen TV gem, ‘Dark Shadows’, a weirdly compelling daytime drama first aired in 1966.

Focusing on an eccentric family with connections to the undead, the show’s concoction of gothic romance, fantasy and horror sees Burton right at home and gives him ample opportunity to put his own spin on the darkly humoured matters. It’s disappointing then that Burton’s bells and whistles big screen make-over doesn’t quite reach the delirious heights of humour as say, Beetlejiuce, or pack as much of an emotional punch as his pitch-perfect Edward Scissorhands (still, arguably, the man’s best work). In fact, Dark Shadows doesn’t really do anything that we haven’t seen Burton do before, but better.

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The story begins in 1750, where a young Barnabas Collins and his family arrive from England with the hopes of turning a small US coastal town into a thriving fishing port. Two decades later and business is booming, so much so that the town now takes the name of Collinswood. Barnabas, who has grown into a handsome rogue with a penchant for the ladies, has finally found his true love in the radiant, Josette DuPress. However, little does Barnabas know that his ex, Angelique Bouchard (Green), is not only heartbroken by being jilted by the wealthy playboy, but she is also a witch. After murdering Barnabas’ sweetheart, Angelique leaves Barnabas with a fate worse than death when she turns him into a vampire and buries him alive.

Nearly two centuries later, Barnabas is inadvertently set free and attempts to return to his beloved home in Collinwood Manor. However, 1972 is a very different place, and not only does Barnabas have to contend with a world of lava lamps, The Carpenters and hippies, but he also has to deal with the ragtag bunch of remnants of the Collins family now living in the family home.

After a fairly swift prologue, Burton’s film begins its amusing fish-out-of-water tale of a vampire getting to grips with the modern world. Depp, complete with pale face, eye-catching haircut and comedy accent, delivers the one-liners in spades and adds yet another memorable oddball to his repertoire of kooky characters. But, despite the entertaining performance, there are few surprises from Depp, and fewer from Burton.

Visually, the film looks terrific, with sublime special effects and make-up, and certainly, there’s eye-candy around just about every corner throughout. But Dark Shadows lacks any real drive or momentum, struggling to sink its teeth into a compelling story or plot. We simply don’t care about Barnabas’ attempts to restore the Collins name to its former glory, and the central story involving the return of Barnabas’ evil ex appears to play it safe, seemingly dumbing down the twisted elements of Burton’s darker days for the summer blockbuster crowds.

It’s a shame, as there is so much potential here and so many unusual characters for Burton to go wild with. Johnny Lee Miller’s philandering patriarch is criminally underused, as is Helena Bonham Carter’s horny psychiatrist. Chloe Moretz’s sexually charged Carolyn – the habitual weird wild child of the household – doesn’t sit quite right either, and a last-minute plot twist involving her character merely seems tacked on.

But at least Eva Green gets plenty of opportunity to strut her stuff as the unhinged, sexed up sorceress with a penchant for going commando. Indeed, Green often steals the show, though to be honest, with so few Burton bombshells along the way, it’s not that hard to.

Reviewed on: 10 May 2012
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Dark Shadows packshot
After centuries in the grave, a vampire returns to try and sort out his dysfunctional family.
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