‘Dark Shadows’ deserves an early grave

Normally, I am a fan of Johnny Depp and Tim Burton — after all, their alliance produced classics like “Edward Scissorhands,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” and “Alice in Wonderland.” But although “Dark Shadows” held all the usual Tim Burton eccentricities (such as characters with papery pale skin and dark eye shadow and quirky personalities), the unrequited vampire love story is far from my favorite film.

“Dark Shadows,” which is a parody of the mid-1960s TV series by the same name, follows Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp), a 19th century Englishman who lost his one true love to another woman’s spite. The woman, Angelique (Eva Green), just happened to be a witch with an obsessive love towards Barnabas, cursing Barnabas with an allergy to both silver and sunlight as well as a plight of blood as sustenance. But alas, after being locked in a coffin for 196 years, Barnabas is back.

Once again, Johnny Depp plays a character a little out of touch with the modern world. But compared to his more whimsical roles as Mad Hatter or Willy Wonka, Depp as Barnabas feels ancient. His stiff mannerisms feel uncomfortable next to his laid-back, hippie, 1972 Vietnam War era counterparts. In one scene, Depp’s character is talking to Carolyn Stoddard (Chloe Grace Moretz), his distant teenage relative, about courting a modern woman. It’s like watching your dad talk to you about the birds and the bees. You can’t help but cringe, feeling embarrassed and trying to tune out. Perhaps that’s why the film itself felt uncomfortable, ridiculous and shallow. I felt like Moretz’s character, watching her great great great great grandfather make a fool of himself. Sure, you love him no matter what, but ooooh, Johnny, did you have to do that?

Perhaps the problem is not with the acting but with the plot. When you have a.) a womanizing playboy who hooked up with the wrong woman, and b.) the wrong woman just happened to be obsessed with you that rather than kill you, she makes you a vampire so while everyone you love dies, she can still attempt to woo you, perhaps melodrama is to be expected. It’s petty conflicts like this that drive the movie. In one scene, Depp and Green have wild, passionate sex, breaking every piece of furniture in a room. In another exchange, Depp slaps Green across the face as she breaks like a china doll. But even if it’s melodrama that the movie is after, I don’t sympathize with many of characters.

Roger Collins (Johnny Lee Miller), one of Barnabas’ more recent descendants, is timid preferring to run away rather than raise his son. David Collins (Gulliver McGrath), Roger’s son, has such a minor role that despite being declared mentally unstable and able to see ghosts, he is hardly visible. Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter), David’s psychiatrist, has her own mental infliction, seeking eternal youth and beauty. Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer) is the motherly figure that’s trying desperately to hold her family together, but that even feels one dimensional.

There are bright spots to the dark shadows of the film. Fifteen-year-old Chloe Grace Moretz, known for recent roles such as the childhood friend of Hugo in Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” and the superhero Hit-Girl in Matthew Vaughn’s “Kick – Ass,” departs from her younger and more innocent kid roles and displays maturity as a young actress — slamming doors, slouching, listening to music and well, acting like a regular teenager.

Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote), David’s nanny, seems like a spunky, innocent bystander with a tragic past in the beginning of the movie, but by the end, she pulls a Bella Swan, jumping off a cliff and asking her Edward Cullen to make her vampire.

The film does features a great, funny montage to the Carpenter’s “Top of the World” though, and Alice Cooper was recruited to give a private concert. Perhaps if the film featured more of this light-hearted comedy found in the earlier half of the film rather than the sickening stalker-ish love that is notorious in Stephanie Meyer’s “Twilight,” the film come off as less trite and the shadows would actually have some depth.

“Dark Shadows” was written by Seth Grahame-Smith and John August; and directed by Tim Burton.

To view this post published in Imprint Magazine, click here. 

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