There really is no other actor like Johnny Depp. In a long, eclectic career, and especially in collaboration with director Tim Burton, he has given us characters that are nearly impossible to imagine being portrayed by anyone else. This seems doubly true for Dark Shadows, though it’s a pity the rest of Burton’s movie doesn’t live up to Depp’s performance.
The film is based on a late 60s-early 70s TV soap opera that featured a vampire as one of its central characters, and the adaptation is consistently soapy despite the ad campaign, which shows most of the funny bits and tries to convince you it’s a comedy. In the late 1700s, Barnabas Collins (Depp), son of a wealthy seafood merchant, rejects the advances of witch Angelique (Eva Green), who proceeds to kill his family, send his true love Josette walking off a high cliff, and turn him into an undead bloodsucker. He’s locked in an iron coffin by the locals and buried in the forest outside of town.
Cut to 1972, when a construction crew unearths the coffin. Barnabas tops up his blood levels and then returns to Collinwood Manor to find the remains of his descended family languishing. They include Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer) and her sullen daughter Carolyn (Chloë Grace Moretz), brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller) and his troubled son David (Gulliver McGrath), live-in therapist Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter), and newly-arrived governess Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote), who bears an uncanny resemblance to Barnabas’s beloved Josette. Joining this dysfunctional crew, Barnabas sets out to return the family business to glory, and only becomes more determined when he discovers that Angelique is not only still alive, but his biggest competition.
In true soap fashion, all of these characters have secrets, though some are more mundane than others, and some are just plain silly. They aren’t played for laughs, however, and I don’t think Burton intends the movie to be over-the-top funny. The comedic moments are generally limited to Addams Family-type visuals, grimly contrasting with upbeat 70s music, and barely draw a chuckle.
In fact, the picture fails to generate much in the way of any emotion. Depp’s old-school vampire is entertaining – at times even suggestive of Captain Jack Sparrow, if he didn’t drink and was played by Bela Lugosi – but the characters around him are so locked in ennui that it stifles the proceedings. Most of the other actors are given very little to do, particularly Heathcote – Victoria’s relationship with Barnabas is as wispy as the ghost she keeps following around the house, though we’re supposed to believe they are meant to be together through some twist of cyclical immortality (the film’s term, not mine). Green makes a good villain out of Angelique, but she and Barnabas argue about the same things so many times that the eyes start to glaze over whenever they’re together on screen.
Overall, Dark Shadows isn’t a bad movie so much as it just isn’t a good one. It limps along more like a zombie than the vampire at its heart, even if that vampire is fun to watch.
Tags: movie review