In 1752, Barnabus Collins (Johnny Depp) was a young child who set sail from Liverpool with his parents, bound for America. Two decades later, he is the heir to the dominant Collin’s fishing empire, pride of the town of Collinsport. That is, until he spurns the closet-witch Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), who, not content with murdering his parents, makes the love of his life, Josette (Bella Heathcoate), commit suicide and turns Barnabus into a vampire. After the town of Collinsport discovers his blood-sucking ways, Barnabus is imprisoned inside a coffin and buried. Fast-forward 200 years, to the year 1972, and the Collins family is a ruin of its former glory. Collinswood manor is now populated by matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfieffer), her daughter Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz), Roger Collins (Jonny Lee Miller), his son David (Gulliver McGrath) and David’s new nanny Victoria (Bella Heathcoate). Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) and butler-esque Willie (Jackie Earle Harley) also reside with the titular family. When construction workers unearth Barnabus Collins, he has to team up with these newfound relations in an effort to defeat Angelique’s nefarious plans, and return the Collin’s family to its former glory.
Dark Shadows used to be a fairly obscure television show. Tim Burton has taken the concept of the show, and run away with it, taking a more humorous, action packed take. Right from the start, it feels like a Burton film cinematography-wise. It gets off to a hectic pace, rushing through major plot points so fast it feels rushed. It’s a smart move, as Tim Burton realises that the main draw of this film is the “fish-out-of-water” moments that Barnabus finds himself in when he awakens in 1972. Humour abounds as Barnabus butts heads with Carolyn and Dr. Hoffman over the role of women in modern society. Burton also handles the action well, with some great effects and some brilliant fight scenes.
Michelle Pfieffer is great as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard. She plays it brilliantly, and brings a sense of realism. Bonham Carter is also fantastic, while Eva Green almost steals the show. However, this is the Johnny Depp show, and he enthrals as usual. Funny, dramatic and, frankly, carrying the film, Depp embodies Barnabus Collins perfectly. However, not everyone is great. Chloe Grace Moretz is, frankly, a disappointment. Her performance is strained for the entire film and it’s uncomfortable. She reminds you that you’re watching an actress and it’s such a shame because she is one of, if not the, most talented young actress of her generation. It’s probably mostly due to the role and how it’s been written but her “big surprise” at the end is very possibly the worst moment of the film.
The writing brings up more problems. The story is pretty predictable, feeling sluggish and in places, tedious. The best thing about the film is the whole “fish-out-of-water” idea but the story feels like an afterthought – being tacked on to try and justify the humour. Dark Shadows ends up being an enjoyable farce but little more than that. You’ll enjoy Depp’s antics and some of the more humorous bits but the lack of depth will mean that, in the end, you won’t be jumping for joy when they set up the sequel.
by Jacob Richardson