In the late 18th century, Barnabus Collins (Johnny Depp) scorns Angelique (Eva Green), a woman who just so happens to be a witch. Angelique curses Barnabus to be a vampire and buries him alive. 200 years later Barnabus is awoken to discover that the world around him has changed dramatically and his family is not as successful as it once was. With the rest of the Collins family in tow, Barnabus sets about rectifying this.
The premise for Dark Shadows is a fantastic one; based on a cult classic TV show, a vampire adjusts to his eternal life after he wakes up 200 years in his future. Sounds great, but somehow it does not work.
Johnny Depp plays the same quirky, fish out of water character that he has become known for, and this routine is becoming old. Yes, there are moments of genuine charm throughout the film – especially the sequence that shows Barnabus unable to sleep anywhere but a coffin – but these are few and far between. Depp does a passable job as Barnabus Collins, but his affected accent and odd make up puts a barrier between him and the audience. There have been some fantastic portrayals of vampires on the big screen, notably Brad Pitt in Interview With the Vampire and Willem Dafoe in Shadow of the Vampire, but Depp never manages to capture the camp and fun qualities that his character needs.
Helena Bonham Carter is reduced to dwelling in a basement and playing a character who feels like Marla Singer’s younger, less troubled sister. Yes, both chain smoke and are more than a little off, but at least Singer had some darkness to her, Dr Hoffman comes off feeling undeveloped and superficial. The same goes for most of the characters; Michelle Pfeiffer is given little to do other than stand on staircases menacingly, Jonny Lee Miller is given even less to do and Chloe Moretz just sulks around the set, curling her lip and never giving much of a performance. Eva Green gives perhaps the best performance and this is simply because she goes with the campy over the top feel of the film and seems to have a good time doing it.
The mistake of the film was to base it around Barnabus Collins. Johnny Depp is, without doubt, a wonderful actor, but he does not commit enough to these heightened characters carry a feature length film. There is an interesting story at the heart of the film – other than an anachronistic vampire who is finding it difficult to adjust to this new world, a story that quickly runs out of charm and steam – and it is that of Victoria (Bella Heathcote), why she is haunted by Barnabus’s doomed ex-girlfriend and the impact that this has had on her young life. The story of this young woman and her banishment from her family, imprisonment in a mental institution and her subsequent journey through life feels like something that would have fascinated Tim Burton in years gone by, but this subplot is skimmed over in favour of Johnny Depp discovering a lava lamp.
The film feels like scenes stitched together with a very thin story, and even that is being generous at times; it seems as though writers John August and Seth Grahaeme-Smith came up with a couple of good gags – most of which are repeated far too often – and in order to find a place for them in the film created a longwinded scene around them. Plot holes abound – who are these mysterious Collinses and where did they come from if all of Barnabus’s family was killed? – and by the time the action finally does get going, and other plot devices are revealed – the audience has lost all faith in this film.
In all, Dark Shadows is a patchy and disappointing film from a once great director. Tim Burton appears to have lost himself in his own indulgent little world, with little regard for anything or any one outside of it. Dark Shadows could have been a great film that poked fun at the vampire myth and Hollywood’s current obsession with all things bloodsucker, but instead the film is a brightly coloured let down with a great soundtrack.