Dark Shadows reunites Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton for his latest creation, an adaptation of the television series of the same name. Depp stars as Barnabas Collins, cursed to live out his days as a vampire by Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) for refusing her love, and locked away for two centuries underground within a coffin. Upon awakening, Collins returns to his home with the intention of helping his distant relatives restore the family business, albeit in very different times.
From the very first shot it’s instantly presented to the audience that this is Tim Burton doing exactly what Tim Burton does. There is the familiar tone, the gothic backdrop and spooky supernatural elements merged with an array of unethical yet very interesting characters.
During Barnabas Collins’ two century absence, Burton chooses to follow Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote), and it’s assumed this character is to play an integral role within the film, yet upon Barnabas awakening the film quickly re-affirms its direction by following his every move. This makes it very difficult to create any kind chemistry when it’s suggested Victoria is to be a love interest, with hints towards everything not being quite as it seems. It’s also rather disorientating that Barnabas will happily sink his teeth into an innocent victim and yet it’s still assumed this is the protagonist of the film that we’re meant to follow and urge on to achieve his goals – fortunately, Depp does his best to rectify this by creating the perfect balance of humour mixed with the emotions of a tortured soul.
Tim Burton controls the pace well but as the film progresses numerous narrative flaws present themselves; screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith could have done to add more depth to the characters. The antagonist in Angelique is shed minimal back story, with no real explanation as to why she can do what she can, seemingly thrown in their to provide conflict and an obstacle to overcome.
The film draws humour from the fact it’s largely set in 1972, with the lead character – more anti-hero than hero – slightly disorientated by his new surroundings. Comedy is drawn from these situations, and largely thanks to the brilliant delivery from Depp it hits the high notes most of the time. It’s because of these comedic elements that are so apparent throughout the bulk of the second act that when the third act comes and the comedy stops, it offers a complete contrast. It seems Burton takes a whole different approach, he falls into the dark & typical Burton territory audiences are so accustomed to, which creates a contrast and confirms that the film seems unaware of what message it is aiming to portray.
The overall tone is not as light hearted and fun as first presented, and it’s within the third act that the narrative weakens further with certain themes disappearing entirely. Burton attempts to conclude Barnabas’s story on a personal level and avoids the bigger picture entirely, presenting a slightly cheated feel to the audience and leaving an ending that is somewhat unresolved.
It’s a step up from Burton following Alice in Wonderland, and the comedy hits the high notes, with Depp stealing every scene. It’s entertaining in a lot of ways, but too many narrative setbacks hold the film back; a tighter screenplay and more depth to the characters could have had Burton back on top form.
Released in UK cinemas: May 11