(Published in City Express, The New Indian Express on 12 May 2012, retrieved from http://expressbuzz.com/entertainment/reviews/dark-shadows/390817.html)
Cast: Johnny Depp, Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer, Bella Heathcote, Chloë Grace Moretz, Johnny Lee Miller, Helena Bonham Carter, Gully McGrath, Jackie Earle Haley
Director: Tim Burton
Rating: 3 stars
Since 1990’s Edward Scissorhands, Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have come together eight times, creating and recreating gothic favourites, inspired by their childhood fantasies and cult favourites. From that stable comes Dark Shadows, the story of Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp), the scion of a wealthy fishing dynasty, Josette/ Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote), the love of his life, and Angelique (Eva Green), the wicked witch whose all-consuming lust for Barnabas leads to vicious schemes that will destroy everyone and everything he loves. But she desires and despises him too much to kill him, condemning him to a vampire’s eternal existence.
The film begins with a stylised narrative that holds much promise. It introduces us to characters with great personality – the wraith-like Victoria with her powerful voice, the drunken butler Willie (Jackie Earle Haley) whose Cockney accent lends a sarcastic edge to grouchy lines, the old servant Mrs. Johnson (Ray Shirley), who’s “about as useful as a bucket without a bottom”, the sharp-tongued, nasty teenager Carolyn Stoddard (Chloë Grace Moretz), her cousin David (Gully McGrath) who talks to ghosts, the resident shrink Dr. Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) and the Collins siblings, Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Roger (Johnny Lee Miller).
But the story disintegrates into a far milder version of what it could have been, no thanks to a storyline that turns insipid, and underwhelming performances by most of the main cast – Johnny Depp is the only one who adapts to the part-satirical, part-intense tone that is a hallmark of Burton’s films. We’re pitchforked from 1760 to 1972, and though Depp does a remarkable job of portraying Collins’ bewilderment at modern life, it’s a routine we’ve seen too often to find funny. There’s a lovely quirky touch in his conversation with a bunch of hippies, but we must turn to well-timed one-liners for the humour.
Burton’s masterful art direction and his over-the-top sequences are complemented by the dreamy appearances and mysterious utterances of sundry spirits. But those – like me – who have a soft corner for his work may be stunned by the poor execution of certain scenes, especially towards the climax. Then again, those – like me – who are sympathetic to his style may perceive the drama involving a werewolf, vampire and human as a subversion of that horrific teen romance involving sparkling bloodsuckers.
With most actors struggling for a foothold, it doesn’t help that the plot seems to have holes in it. It’s hard to make sense of parts of the story without the context. We don’t quite understand Carolyn’s references to her father, or David’s to his mother; nor are we told how the Collinses endure, or where the “distant relatives” came from – the only inhabitants of Collinwood Manor seemed to be Barnabas and his parents.
The Verdict: There’s enough in the film to keep you engaged, but not enough to live up to expectations.