Around this same time last year Johnny Depp starred in the unnecessary fourth chapter of the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN series. It was a boring, drawn out mess of a film and I’m pretty sure most people saw it simply to see Depp as Jack Sparrow again. Screw the story. Just give me Johnny Depp swishing around the screen with an accent and I’m good. That just has to be it. Well fear not, Depp fans, because this year we get Depp in DARK SHADOWS, another boring, drawn out mess of a film, only this time he’s doing it with the help of his longtime collaborator, Tim Burton.
Based on the 60s gothic soap opera of the same name, the film begins in the 1760s as a young Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) travels with his parents to America from Liverpool and begin a lucrative fishing empire in the New World. As an adult, Barnabas is a bit of playboy who has a fiancée he cares deeply for, Josette, yet he carries on with a chambermaid by the name of Angelique (Eva Green). When Angelique wants Barnabas to commit to her he denies her and Angelique uses witchcraft to curse Barnabas to live forever as a vampire after he watches Josette fall off a cliff to her death. Angelique then leads a town mutiny against Barnabas causing him to be buried alive for 200 years.
In 1972 Barnabas is accidentally freed from his coffin and he returns to his family estate to find it in shambles. He resolves to restore the family business and get to know his family – Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer) and her reclusive, angsty daughter Carolyn (Chloë Moretz), her widowed philandering brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller) and his disturbed son David, as well as David’s drunken live-in psychiatrist Dr. Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) and the new governess Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote). However as Barnabas attempts to revive the family business he finds that his biggest competition is led by the ever youthful Angelique and she still has it out for him. As Barnabas fights for his family’s business he also finds himself falling for Victoria, who bears a close resemblance to his beloved Josette.
DARK SHADOWS starts out well enough as they delve into Barnabas’ backstory and Angelique’s witchcraft craziness setting the gothic tone for the rest of film. As usual, Depp fits the part of playing a kooky outsider trying to get used to “normal” society and watching him get acclimated with all that is the 70s like troll dolls, roads, television and lava lamps is quite amusing at first. However this carries on for well over an hour and the novelty wears off quickly. Once you get past Barnabas’ readjustment that’s when the film nosedives and the disjointed storylines become apparent.
Pfeiffer is said to be the head of the household and family business but does little else than make grand poses at the top of a staircase. Moretz is merely there to provide the film’s 70s soundtrack and has an absurd twist late in the game. There is some kind of story developing between Dr. Hoffman and Barnabas as she helps him in his efforts to become “human” so he can be with Victoria but that is hardly expanded and cut short rather quickly begging the question “why did they even bother?” Miller is ever so slightly personified as a hedonistic and money grubbing absentee father but he hardly does anything in the film besides sit at the dinner table or stare out a window. Even when there’s a hint that he might have a chance at playing a larger role in the story it turns out to be false and he continues on doing nothing. He shouldn’t even have been in the film.
Barnabas’ supposed budding romance with Victoria is rarely ever focused on as he’s barely seen spending any kind of time with her and Victoria’s hardly in the movie to begin with. She appears mysteriously, pops in and out during the “romance”, not once actually shown caring for David, and isn’t even there for the climax! During the film’s climatic battle I couldn’t help but wonder “where the fuck is Victoria in all this?” The film also alludes to her having some kind of connection to Josette which makes the timing of her appearance at the Collin’s manor very curious and somewhat intriguing but it’s never explored and any kind of supernatural importance she might have disappears.
I will admit that the scenes with Green were some of the more enjoyable ones as she seemed to be one of the few people who, besides Depp, had fun giving an over-the-top, campy performance. Her aggressive love-hate relationship with Barnabas was the only story that is expanded upon and carried on throughout the entire film, making it somewhat interesting to watch. However their violent and destructive love scene is anything but titillating or even funny.
Looking back on DARK SHADOWS, I thought it might have been some campy, 70s supernatural film but now I find that I can’t actually nail down what type of movie it is. It’s not entirely a comedy or drama and it’s not entirely campy or scary. It lingers somewhere in between all that without actually being anything at all. It just is what it is and what it is isn’t great, which makes me a bit worried for ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER. Seth Grahame-Smith, author and screenwriter of AL:VH, penned the script for DARK SHADOWS and with it bouncing around from subplot to subplot and various genres without actually developing the characters or creating any kind of emotion besides boredom towards the story, I really hope this isn’t an indicator of what we can expect from AL:VH. I am a big fan of the book and if he treats his own material this way then we are in store for a very disappointing movie this June.
There is a reason DARK SHADOWS was a TV show and not a movie. With so many stories trying to be told, two hours isn’t enough to properly develop them. They should be spread out over episodes, giving them time to grow and make the audience care. By condensing everything we’re given a film that fails to come together into any kind of cohesive or rich story and instead only serves to add yet another incoherent and dull movie to Depp and Burton’s filmography.