"Dark Shadows" Film Review
By: Nathaniel Simpson
Vampires have been a part of film since its creation, with 1922's "Nosferatu" being a hallmark of this classic horror genre. Since then, there has been numerous adaptations of the character of Dracula and other vampire fiends, ranging from adult horror films to family-friendly animated features to even romance movies that depict a human falling in love with the vampire. In 2012, Tim Burton decided to adapt the soap opera "Dark Shadows" into a movie, with Johnny Depp in the starring role. What he delivers is an odd film that is all over the place, yet mildly entertaining at times.
The movie is centered around Barnabas Collins (Depp), an extremely rich playboy who presides over the town of Collinsport. When he breaks the heart of a witch known as Angelique (Eva Green), she kills the love of his life and turns him into a vampire for eternity. Now buried in the ground with no possible escape, he must serve out the rest of his unfortunate life in his tomb.
However, two centuries pass when Barnabas is finally able to escape from his underground tomb. He is then transported into 1972 Collinsport, which is much different than how he left it all those years ago. He now finds that his once powerful empire is in ruins, and the remnants of his family (Michelle Pfeiffer, Chloë Grace-Moretz) are as weird as they are dysfunctional. Now back in society, Barnabas must figure out how to regain control of his family business and restore it back to the once powerful empire it once was.
This movie contains the beautifully weird style of Burton's. You don't need to know anything about it to know that Burton had a hand in creating this film. I would say that in a way, this may be the wildest Burton has gone in his filmography. The town has that dark and dreary tone that Burton is known for, and even the characters are just oozing that weird charm Burton has. In that sense, he does a great job of bringing his own type of vibe and tone to this movie, and it really allows him to explore this new format of filmmaking.
At the same time, the actors really embody the characters they are playing. Depp does a great job of adding his own flair to this vampire character, and even though he doesn't seem necessarily threatening, it's a lot of fun watching him play this undead character. The other actors, especially Grace-Moretz, do a very good job of playing those weird and dysfunctional characters that can make you feel uncomfortable at times.
I think the main problem for this movie that really holds it back from being a good film is the writing and the story. They're both unfortunately very bland, and tries to implement a lot of humor that just doesn't work too well. This picture seems like it has the potential to be a great comedy, but we only get a glimpse of this at times. Some jokes and scenes work very well, but many are dragged on and are just not fun or funny at all. It's incredibly disappointing as we have this brilliant director and this extremely talented cast, but they just can't work with what they are given.
Then, at the same time, some scenes are just very uncomfortable and not funny whatsoever. Consider the scene where Barnabas is blackmailed into having sex with the evil witch who caused all of this in the first place. It's just so out there and not needed, serving more as shock value than anything. It also shows the inconsistencies in the script. They make the witch flip-flop from loving the vampire one second to hating him and plotting his downfall the next. It seems like Burton is not sure what route he wants to take for this, which muddles the story and makes it confusing and convoluted at times. It's nearly impossible to remember all the characters, or even know their names or purpose, as the credits roll.
This is an incredibly disappointing film that could have worked very well. Since it was a soap opera first, it seems like Burton tried to include all of these characters and plot elements in a film that isn't even two hours. He bit off way more than he can chew, and it is definitely evident throughout the entirety of the movie. If the story and the production was just a little tighter and more focused, I think this could have been a modern classic for Halloween films.