Review: DARK SHADOWS

By Laurie Coker

Rating: C+

I lived the seventies. I remember the music, the clothing and the culture of the seventies fondly and vividly, so I love the concept put forth by the creators of Johnny Depp’s new film Dark Shadows, based on the television series of the same name, which aired in the late sixties and the early seventies. Armed with a wonderful cast, Tim Burton presents an at times funny, although somewhat trite, tale of the Collins family and generations of cursed torment.

Depp plays Barnabas Collins, who because of spurned love, loses his parents and his beloved and is cursed to live (immortally) as a vampire, by a witch (Eva Green), who vows to torture the Collins family forever.  Angelique (as she is called in the 70s), so angry after Barnabas slights her and falls in love with another, instigates the death of his wealthy parents and his fiance Josette (Bella Heathcote), and turns him in to a creature of the night. Making matters direr for Barnabas, she turns the townspeople against him and has him buried alive. Centuries later, 1972 to be exact, a construction crew accidently digs up Barnabas, setting him free and in short shrift, he sucks the workers dry and makes his way to Collinswood, where his descendants still inhabit the now run-down mansion. There Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer), her daughter Carolyn (Chloë Grace Moretz), her brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), his son David (Gulliver McGrath) and David’s psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) all reside.

Burton and Seth Graham Smith, who co-wrote the story with John August, base their tale on series writer Dan Curtis’ popular TV show – a show for which I have limited memories. I am more of a Munsters and Addam’s Family generation. The cast impresses, except, for me Green is miss cast. She looks the part, but her accent annoyed the heck out of me. The French actress falls in and out of a variety of poorly rendered American inflections.  Depp delights, but Barnabas is not much of a stretch for him since he oft’ chooses quirky, bizarre, off-beat characters anyway. In this I kept imagining Gilbert Grape and Edward Sissorhands. Still, he is funny and entertaining to watch. Bonham Carter, does a wonderful, boozing head-shrinker. Pfeiffer, too, steals many scenes and she is simply stunning for her age. Touching on Green again, as noted, she very much looked the part and acted witchy well; I just felt annoyed by the accent, wondering why an American actress (or one with crisper linguistic skills) wasn’t cast.

Visually Burton’s film is spot on and brilliantly seventies – complete with hippies, VW busses, polyester, lava lamps and all the accoutrements that made that decade what it was – like Alice Cooper (who sings in a cameo appearance) and the Carpenters.  I did enjoy the trip down memory lane, and the film’s witty snippets of humor (frequent enough to warrant my extended attention), but the story lacks –cohesiveness, clarity and a decent climax. What I assume are meant to be twists and surprise lack any real punch. I won’t spoil them, but I will say WHAT? Or more appropriately – WHY?

Dark Shadows is more of a vehicle for Depp to be Depp and for Burton to show off his exceptional creativity than anything else and in that vein it pleases, but meh is all I can think of when I ponder the film as a whole, and I suppose so so, not bad and a few other lackluster phrases apply, Jumping from the 19th century to the seventies, Burton and crew capture the essence of both time frames and it’s wonderfully vivid and well enough acted, so I am placing a C+ in my grade book.

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