Dark Shadows (2012)
Directed by: Tim Burton | 113 minutes | comedy, fantasy | Actors: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green, Jackie Earle Haley, Jonny Lee Miller, Bella Heathcote, Chloë Grace Moretz, Gulliver McGrath, Ray Shirley, Christopher Lee, Alice Cooper, Ivan Kaye, Susanna Cappellaro, Josephine Butler , William Hope, Shane Rimmer, Michael Shannon
As a child, Johnny Depp was so obsessed with Barnabas Collins, the central character in the gothic soap opera “Dark Shadows”, that he dreamed of being him for years. Collins is an eighteenth-century vampire who awakens two centuries later to a world completely new to him. Depp’s obsession with the eloquent and romantic tragedy haunted Collins eventually led to him actually stepping into his skin in the film version of ‘Dark Shadows’ (2012), directed by none other than Tim Burton, for whom the bringing an ancient vampire to life is a piece of cake, of course. Burton has also been a big fan of the Dan Curtis created series from an early age, of which no fewer than 1,225 episodes were made between 1966 and 1971. ‘Dark Shadows’ is the eighth collaboration between Depp and Burton and follows the tried and tested concept: Depp, wearing a thick layer of white make-up, looks out into the black circles around his eyes, into the wonderful and especially dark world of Burton.
The prologue of ‘Dark Shadows’ immediately sets the tone: in that wonderfully grim setting that we know from Burton, the history of the Collins family is explained. In 1752 they move from Liverpool, England, to Collinsport, Maine, where they become wealthy from the fish trade. Son Barnabas (Depp) grows up to be a wealthy playboy who rules the Collinwood Manor estate. He can get any woman he wants, but the tide seems to turn when he breaks the heart of maid Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), a witch who ultimately takes revenge by killing his great love Josette (Bella Heathcote). Barnabas into a vampire and then bury him alive. More than two centuries later, in 1972, Barnabas is accidentally freed from his coffin. The workmen who stumbled upon his coffin wish they’d gone digging elsewhere… To Barnabas’s horror, the once stately Collinwood Manor has been turned into a shambles, inhabited by a disorderly collection of his descendants. The place is run by mother of the house Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), who has a hard time with her rebellious teenage daughter Carolyn (Chloë Grace Moretz), her untrustworthy brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), his ten-year-old motherless son David (Gully McGrath). and alcoholic psychiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter).
That unhinged family turns out to be the worst that Barnabas encounters. The rarities of the early 1970s – with its hippies and lava lamps – are miraculous phenomena for an eighteenth-century vampire, for whom electricity is already a novelty. He is also fascinated by the young Victoria (double role of Heathcote), the recently arrived nanny of the Collins family who looks a lot like Josette. He devises a plan especially for her, with the help of Dr. Hoffman, through blood transfusions to become mortal again, although she secretly has other plans with Barnabas’ blood. Even worse is that two hundred years later, the Collins family is still bothered by (a descendant of?) Angelique, who still has her sights on Barnabas and goes far, very far to win him over.
As we have come to expect from Tim Burton, the stylish ‘Dark Shadows’ is rich in dark atmospheres, beautiful sets and costumes and morbid jokes. Depp is perfectly at his place as an otherworldly guy who makes one discovery after another and knows how to strike the right chord with the audience with his dryly comic reactions. His palmares is of course bulging in these kinds of characters, so it is not innovative, but Depp gives the audience exactly what it comes for. In Eva Green he has a remarkably strong opponent; especially their idiosyncratic love dance is a feast for the eyes. Other characters get less space to shine. Pfeiffer, Carter and Moretz do have their moments, but it remains limited. The plot twist around Moretz’ Carolyn is also completely out of the picture and feels forced. ‘Dark Shadows’ is above all the big Depp show, even though he plays quite modest here and it is Green who gets to unpack. You could say about Seth Grahame-Smith’s screenplay that the expectations aroused in the beginning are not quite fulfilled. For example, the humor loses its sharpness over time and occasionally it is all too easy to ‘score’ with plot twists.
With its bizarre characters and macabre setting, ‘Dark Shadows’ fits right in with Burton and Johnny Depp shows once again how well he can deal with contrarian and other-worldly figures. That makes this dark comedy entertaining to watch. For the inveterate Burton fan, however, ‘Dark Shadows’ has few surprises in store.