You don’t like modern Tim Burton movies, you just think you do. You probably have warm fuzzy nostalgia for his earlier work (Edward Scissorhands, Batman, Beetlejuice) but every time he announces a new movie, you waltz into the cinema with naïve happy optimism only for it to be crushed beneath the boot heel of disappointment (Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Alice In Wonderland).
Dark Shadows is his latest effort and should be flung on the dud pile immediately. At first glance it looks promising. It’s got the usual rogue’s gallery of Tim Burton collaborators – Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Christopher Lee in a very small cameo, Danny Elfman on score duty – and if anyone was going to pull off a goth aesthetic set in the 1970s, it was going to be Burton. Sadly, the script is weak, the story muddled and nothing seems to gel properly, leaving it a lumpy, unsatisfying mix of mild comedy and milder horror.
In 1775 Barnabas (Depp), the head of the affluent Collins family spurns the love of Angelique Bouchard (Green). Unfortunately for him, she’s a witch and she sends his true love Josette (Bella Heatcote) to her death, turns him into a vampire, seals him in a coffin and buries him alive. 200 years later, Barnabas returns and vows to restore the former glories of his family name and mansion.
It’s about time that Johnny Depp played a vampire. At 48 he looks more youthful than many actors half his age and it wouldn’t be a surprise if someone broke into his mansion to discover him in the middle of some kind of sacrificial rite. He makes Barnabas Collins an engaging and likeable character – all pallid makeup and Nosferatu mannerisms; a man out of time bewildered by TV, lava lamps and asphalt and one struggling not to snack on too many humans.
But while the central character is compelling, the script lacks any sort of focus. There are simply too many storylines (no doubt an attempt to pay homage to the long running TV series on which it’s based). As a result Barnabas’s attempts to woo the new governess (Bella Heathcote again), his bid to revitalise the company’s flagging fishing business and his therapy sessions with live-in psychiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman (Bonham Carter once again with violently orange hair) never feel satisfying.
It’s all framed by the overarching feud between Barnabas and Angelique (who now rules the town from her own business empire) but there’s a decided lack of passion between the two leads, even though Green does look absolutely ravishing – massive white teeth behind huge red lips; a seeming endless line of incredible dresses.
Furthermore, the rest of the Collins household – Michelle Pfieffer’s classy matriarch Elizabeth, Jonny Lee Miller’s greedy irresponsible Roger, his neglected oddball son David (Gulliver McGrath), Chloe Moretz’s flower-child Carolyn and Jackie Earle Haley’s groundskeeper Willie (hah!) are sketchily drawn, forgettable and easily lost in the proceedings.
While some of the humour is funny, there’s an overreliance on Barnabas’ man-out-of-time anachronisms rather anything more creative. There are only so many times you can watch him get baffled by modern inventions before it gets tired but even those moments of humour are few and far between. Even worse, an Alice Cooper cameo feels desperate and borderline cringe-worthy and a last minute plot-twist involving Moretz is dreadful.
The aesthetic feels like any other Tim Burton movie (the opening shot could be straight out of Sleepy Hollow) and it boasts an admittedly high production value, but that all seems par for the course – there’s nothing outlandish, nothing unique here. The makeup veers from superb (Angelique’s cracking statue-like face in the climax) to ghastly (at some points it looks like someone’s drawn on Johnny Depp’s face with a stick of charcoal).
There’s so much promise in Dark Shadows – in many ways it seems like the perfect vehicle for Burton but unfortunately, it’s probably time to face up to the sad truth that Tim Burton seems to have lost it.