Review: Dark Shadows


Johnny Depp and Michelle Pfeiffer in Dark Shadows

I've only seen about 7 minutes of the first episode of the original series of Dark Shadows, so I cannot compare the TV show to Tim Burton's new take on it. I'll admit the only reason I tried watching the show was because an older woman asked me during a training session in 2001 whether I was named after the character in the late '60s supernatural soap. Up to that point in my life, I'd never heard of the show. When I heard this movie was coming out, I told Jette that I had to be the one to review Dark Shadows; how often do you get to watch a character who shares your name on the big screen?

Johnny Depp stars as Barnabas Collins, a powerful Maine businessman cursed by a witch in the late 18th century to be a vampire. For reasons too silly to explain, Barnabas finds himself in 1972 and discovers distant cousins are residing in the family estate. Elizabeth (Collins) Stoddard -- an unflappable Michelle Pfieffer -- is the (divorced? widowed?) family matriarch, living with her 15-year-old daughter Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz), brother Roger Collins (Jonny Lee Miller) and his haunted son David (Gulliver McGrath). Also residing in the house are psychiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham-Carter with a Tang-colored wig, as seen below), groundskeeper Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley) and the new governess with a secret past, Victoria (Bella Heathcote).

With such a large cast, you might suspect that there's a lot happening in Dark Shadows. And you'd be correct! My friend commented as we left the theater, "It's like they tried to pack all the storylines from the show into the one movie." If it's not exactly the truth, it certainly feels that way. Even the main plotline, which follows the plight of Barnabas, veers in multiple directions. His origin story in the intro segment is the most intense and focussed the film ever gets, and the rest is a mash-up of a mess.

Barnabas is constantly battling his nemesis, the witch Angelique (Eva Green, who maintains a breathy Nicole Kidman-esque dialect throughout the film) who originally cursed him. Of course she is still in the same small Maine town in 1972! The two are involved in one of the more bizarre "lovemaking" scenes I've seen on film. The viewer is supposed to believe Depp's Barnabas has some serious mojo going, and all the ladies (besides his two female relatives) want him. I found that one of the more far-fetched things about Dark Shadows. At one point, Heathcote's serious-faced Victoria spouts some line about just being happy she caught his eye, and my friend and I both giggled.

Helena Bonham-Carter and her orange wig in Dark Shadows

Dark Shadows is so confused; when it wants laughs, it gets them, but attempts at seriousness fall flat. You know it's bad when you find yourself and other members of the audience laughing at someone jumping off a cliff (to presumed death). If you were hoping the film would be scary, you will be disappointed. But maybe you'll enjoy the brief appearance of Christopher Lee?

Pfieffer's understated performance as Elizabeth, as well as Bonham-Carter's stoned take on Dr. Hoffman, deserve high marks. But the big thing Dark Shadows has going for it is the overall look and style of the film (see the color and setting in the screenshot above). The Burton touch is definitely at work here. I especially loved the hair and wigs. But look and style do not a complete or enjoyable movie make!