At this point, the result of a collaboration between Tim Burton and Johnny Depp isn’t so much an acquired taste as it is one that you’ve already come to enjoy, but has a sour aftertaste. Many would argue that after a string of solid movies for the duo, including Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood and Sleepy Hollow, they’ve hit a lull and in recent years have been unable to recapture the magic that existed so long ago. I would argue, however, that they’re still as wonderful as ever. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street should have been nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, Corpse Bride was a wonderfully macabre, but ultimately satisfying adventure into the abyss of death and Alice in Wonderland, though certainly flawed, was a quirky and visually interesting take on the classic story. Only once with the ill advised Charlie and the Chocolate Factory have they failed to entertain. Their latest collaboration, an adaptation of the campy soap opera from the 60s titled Dark Shadows, is a minor entry in both of their mostly impressive careers, but it’s funny, fun, different and it boasts some terrific performances.
Dark Shadows is set in the 18th century and follows a young Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) as he and his family sail off to America. Once there, he becomes somewhat of a playboy, living with untold riches and striking up a physical relationship with Angelique (Eva Green), a worker in the home he so affectionately calls Collinwood Manor. However, a physical relationship is all he’s interested in because his love belongs to someone else. This breaks Angelique’s heart, which is something Barnabas may have tried to avoid had he known she was a witch, so she puts a curse on him that kills his entire family, including the woman he loves, and turns him into a vampire. With the help of the townsfolk, she eventually captures him, places him in a chained up coffin and buries him in the ground to live in darkness for all eternity. Two hundred years later, a construction crew stumbles onto his grave and accidentally lets him out, so he makes his way back to Collinwood Manor to meet the newest members of his family, including Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), her daughter Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz), her brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), his son David (Gulliver McGrath) and their live-in psychiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter). It’s not too long before Angelique hears of Barnabas’ escape, so she sets out to either win him over or destroy him for good.
Dark Shadows coasts by on a one joke premise: that an 18th century man has stumbled into a 20th century world that he doesn’t understand. Frankly, it’s a story that could have been told in any genre and without the fantasy/horror elements, of which seem to exist solely to create a somewhat believable way to make the set up happen. Such arbitraries hardly matter, however, when you have actors who are up to the task of taking an already witty script and making it even more enjoyable. Depp brings his A-game, which he always does to a Tim Burton production, and it’s endlessly entertaining to watch his 18th century look, mannerisms and rhetoric contrast with a time when hippies ruled and metal was emerging (which leads to a great cameo by one of the all time metal greats, Alice Cooper). Because he has laid in darkness for 200 years, Barnabas has not seen the world progress and still holds onto archaic trains of thought, most humorously when he attributes everything he doesn’t understand to Satan. Even his notion of sexuality is stuck in the past; he covets women based on their child bearing hips rather than modern characteristics men typically look for.
Dark Shadows is not a particularly serious movie, as one should be able to tell by now. Despite its (sometimes downplayed) haunting, gothic visual style that Burton has an affinity for, there are more laughs than anything else, a notion that most viewers would find hard to argue with after the montage set to The Carpenter’s “Top of the World.” It’s not the most polished film Burton has ever done and sports some noticeably amateurish flaws, including one particular shot where the eyelines don’t match up, but it’s nevertheless a surprising delight. Its trailers were worthy of groans, but what doesn’t work in short form works wonderfully in context, similar to 2009’s surprise hit, The Blind Side. It’s not the most subtle film in the world (the connection between one of the characters and Barnabas’ deceased love is plainly obvious), but Dark Shadows is goofy in all the right ways.
Dark Shadows receives 3.5/5