If you'd have told me that it would be a 1970's set period flick with a gothic sensibility and a groovy soundtrack that would end up rejuvenating the world of vampire cinema, I'd have laughed in your face.
Laugh's on me.
based upon the late 60's and early 70's television series of the same name, may not be a flawless film but it's yet another successful collaboration (the eight!) between director Tim Burton and the person who can only be described as his muse, Johnny Depp. Depp is Barnabas Collins, who has been locked away in a coffin for over 200 years before getting himself released and transplanted into 1972 by a group of unaware construction workers whose lives probably would have been much better off had they not awoken from a slumber one seriously thirsty vampire. Barnabas ventures back to Collinwood Manor, a not so stable mansion featuring a not so stable family headed by Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer). Despite her best efforts, Elizabeth has a difficult time reining in this dysfunctional clan that includes a sullen Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz), Elizabeth's brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), Roger's 10-year-old son David (Gully McGrath) and Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter), a live-in psychiatrist prone to near constant drunkenness.
Oh, and there's that matter involving Victoria (Bella Heathcote). Victoria is David's nanny, but she bears more than a passing resemblance to the woman with whom Barnabas became involved before a certain embittered witch (Eva Green) made him pay for his betrayal and locked him away in the coffin.
A good majority of Dark Shadows
weaves together such ingredients as devotion to the original television series, an effective "fish out of water" storyline, a rather droll humor and a refreshing classic romanticism that all work together to turn the film into a cinematic experience both humorous and oddly endearing.
As seems to always be true, Burton has cast Depp well and Depp is utterly delightful as the past-obsessed Collins whose efforts to adjust to 1972 are consistently entertaining even after we've seen nearly two hours of the antics. It's hard not to get the sense that Depp makes Burton a better director and Burton makes Depp a better actor. While one might argue that Dark Shadows
is a bit too obsessed with dialogue and style over actual story, it's hard not to appreciate this beautifully constructed, generously written and well acted film.
In Dark Shadows,
Barnabas is now working to save the family fishery business. To do so, he must once again go face-to-face with Green's Angelique, who now runs an opposing canning business and whose origination of his curse started this whole blasted thing.
There's a solid argument that with the exception of Barnabas and Angelique that the characters in Dark Shadows
are drawn fairly thin, though it should be noted that the quite able cast for the most part rises above that challenge. Pfeiffer, for one, has a field day here and turns her performance as the level-headed matriarch into her meatiest role in quite some time. Chloe Grace Moretz seems a natural within the Tim Burton universe as a brassy and sassy teen brat, while Helena Bonham Carter is neurotic as hell as the whiskey chuggin' shrink with permanent live-in status within the household.
Ultimately, though, the film really comes down to the otherworldly fizzle and sizzle between Depp and Green, both of whom are more than able to make it all work with delicious results. It may seem that Depp does this type of freakish oddball a lot, but then again when was the last time that America showed up at the box-office to see him play someone normal? The simple truth is that this is what Depp does well and America absolutely loves it.
Green, who had a similar sizzle and spark in Casino Royale,
is terrific here even if it will all go for naught since Barnabas is too pure of a chap and is clearly saving himself for Bella Heathcote's Victoria.
As one might expect, Dark Shadows
is a beautiful film to look at and nicely captures both the look and feel of the original source material along with the world through Burton's eyes. Burton's world being companioned by a perfectly selected 70's soundtrack simply has to be experienced to be believed.
isn't going to please everyone. Tim Burton's films never do. The usual Burton fan who didn't really appreciate his interpretation of Alice in Wonderland
will likely be happier here, however, if you appreciated even that film (as did I!) then this will most assuredly be an experience you don't want to miss. If, on the other hand, you've tired of the Burton/Depp collaboration, then this will likely only add more fuel to the fire.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic