Movie Review: Dark ShadowsPosted: May 18, 2012
I’m not a massive fan of Tim Burton, which is odd considering he made one of my all time favourite films, Ed Wood. But there’s something about the rest of his work that just leaves me a little cold (the exceptions being Beetlejuice, Sleepy Hollow, The Corpse Bride and, I guess, Batman).
He’s got a great visual style, but they seem to be all style, with very little substance. Let loose he loses all focus and the results are over-the-top nightmares like his dire versions of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Planet of the Apes (Urgh), and for my money Batman Returns is just as campy and awful as the two follow ups.
Regardless of this, I was kind of looking forward to his latest effort, another team up with Johnny Depp and featuring a fairly good supporting cast.
The story follows Barnabas Collins (Depp) an 18th century nobleman who enjoys life as Lord of the Manor as head of a fishing company above the town he gives his name to, Collinsport. Barnabas makes the mistake of rejecting the advances of one of his servants, Angelique (Eva Green), who turns out to be a witch, and promptly offs Barnabas’ parents and causes his beloved Josette (Bella Heathcote) to kill herself.
Barnabas tries to off himself too, but Angelique curses him to become a vampire. Shortly after this an angry mob drags him out and buries him in a chained up coffin in the woods.
Fast forward to 1972, where something is drawing a young woman (Heathcote again) to Collinsport, where she takes the name of Victoria and becomes the governess to the current Collins family, headed up by Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer).
Victoria is to teach Elizabeth’s nephew, David (Gulliver McGrath- who names their kid Gulliver?) a troubled child who claims to be haunted by the ghost of his mother who drowned.
Also in attendance are Elizabeths’ angry teenage daughter Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz), David’s scoundrel father Roger (Johnny Lee Miller) and David’s psychiatrist Dr. Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter).
Barnabas’ imprisonment in his coffin is broken and he returns to Collinwood Manor, where he finds that the family has fallen from prosperity. He vows to help them regain their fortunes, an intention which increases when he discovers the competition, Angel Bay, is headed by Angelique herself.
Can Barnabas restore the family’s good name? Can he stop Angelique and get together with Victoria? Will the family come to accept him?
Here’s the thing about this film- the reason I wanted to see it was because the trailer wooed me. It had a few funny moments, and a great 70s soundtrack. The problem is, most of the best parts are in the trailer.
That’s not to say its not funny, there are a few jokes about the period, and Depp gets some very funny lines and is as good as ever, even if one feels he’s not really trying that hard. But Depp has charisma too spare and is a very good comedic performer, so even while appearing to coast he does well.
The whole film revolves around Depp’s Barnabas, and he is far and away the best part of the film, but the rest all feels rather flat.
The only cast member who really has a punt is Eva Green as the villainess, as she seems to be having a ball playing the predatory witch. She has a few good lines and manages to bring sexiness to the film, which is something that Burton isn’t usually good at creating.
Her outgoing, agressive Angelique works as a great counter to Barnabas’ proper manner, and she and Depp work really well together.
The rest of the cast is sadly underused, Johnny Lee Miller and Michelle Pfeiffer barely have anything to do, and the kids don’t fare much better. Helena Bonham Carter, who is fast becoming the 21st century version of Sondra Locke, does quite well as the cynical, jaded psychiatrist and is rather sweet in the role at times. Her subplot is brief, but works reasonably well.
Even Barnabas’ love interest, Victoria doesn’t get to do much. Bella Heathcote does fairly well with what little she gets to do, but relies far too much on her ethereal beauty and captivating eyes.
The love between her and Barnabas is apparently because she’s the reincarnation of his lost love, but this feels like a bit of a cop out, and adds to the general feeling that the whole film has been rushed.
Reincarnated love intrests is a shortcut which means we never see any real chemistry between the two, and similarly we only know that David dotes on his vampiric uncle because one of the other characters actually says it out loud. There’s no evidence to support this, and the two have maybe 4 scenes together, in none of which we see any form of bonding taking place.
You feel that more time should have been given to building the relationships between Barnabas and the rest of the family. Especially Moretz’ angry teenager, Moretz is hilarious and a really charming performer and its a shame she doesn’t get more time to show this. It also means that a third act revelation about this character makes no sense.
This rushed feeling is one of a couple of problems I had with this flick, the main one being that the tone seems horrifically uneven. There are some nice gags, and some child-friendly gross moments, but there’s a fair bit of sex included in the film, and its done rather directly for a 12A film.
Gods, I’m complaining about raunchiness in a film. Am I getting old?
I don’t envy the 12 year old who sees this with their parents, especially in a scene including a reference to teenage masterbation. And similarly, I can imagine it’ll be uncomfortable for a parent if their kid asks them why HBC’s head disappears down to Depp’s crotch in one scene.
The film falls between two stools- it seems goofy enough for kids but the raunch suggests it may have been better to aim for a 15, where Burton could have added a bit more blood to proceedings. Also, the seventies soundtrack and humour means that a lot of the jokes aren’t going to be understood by a young audience anyway.
The soundtrack is one of the best parts of the film, with Burton using some great 70s tracks, and a cool opening credit sequence following Victoria’s train soundtracked by the luxurious “Nights in White Satin” by the Moody Blues.
Barry White, T-Rex, Black Sabbath and Curtis Mayfield’s brilliant “Superfly” all crop up on a great soundtrack.
Best of all is the fact that rock god Alice Cooper appears and performs as himself in this movie. Cooper was the first real gig I went to, and the guy is an absolute legend, so I was super chuffed by this, especially as I had no idea it was coming.
All in all, a bit of a mess, not as bad as some of the Tweets I saw about it suggested but far from being anyone’s best work. For me it enters the “meh” section of Burton’s filmography.
Verdict: Has a few good moments, and Depp is always entertaining, but generally feels shallow and rushed. Would be a 5, but the presence of Alice Cooper bumps it up to 6/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO