Dark Shadows Has No Bite
While I appreciated the long, storied career that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have had - after Dark Shadows, I think it's time to give that relationship a rest. From history, I knew this would be a somewhat dark comedy full of strange and wondrous characters (and I wasn't disappointed) but outside of those character, the story just doesn't have much charm and the humor is far too muted to make much of an impact.
Visually, the film is vintage Burton - that run-down Gothic look with a crumbling mansion full of secret passages and meticulous detail. Likewise, his character design still stands out. Depp is still having fun playing the ever-pale Barnabas Collins - a rich scion who messed with the wrong witch and is cursed with vampirism (and then buried for nearly 200 years), The whole fish-out-of-water thing is a bit overdone here, but it's still fun to see what he makes of cars, McDonalds, TV, music and hippies - they're all pretty much one-off jokes, but at least a few of them work.
Also working her role to the hilt is the seemingly always evil Eva Green. Oozing sex appeal and an ancient grudge, aside for Depp, she is the best reason to see the film. No wonder poor Barnabas succumbs to her charms - with those eyes and plunging necklines, I'm pretty sure any straight male would make a deal with the devil if she said so.
The rest of the roles are hit-and-miss. Jackie Earle Haley has a small but interesting part as the perpetually drunken butler/groundskeeper/all-around-head servant of the aging household. Michelle Pfeiffer isn't given near enough range as the current head of the Collins household. ChloŽ Grace Moretz sneers her way through the angsty teen role (and weird reveal at the end that makes little sense). Helena Bonham Carter is her regularly quirky self as a flaming red-headed, boozy psychiatrist who makes a teensy error in experimentation. Jonny Lee Miller is wasted as Robert, the balding, no-good Collins brother who has money on his mind, but not much else. Bella Heathcote is there as the pretty love interest with her own dismal past - who bears a striking resemblance to the woman he was to marry, if only she hadn't jumped to her death after falling under Green's spell. Gulliver McGrath plays the misunderstood youngest Collins who claims to see ghosts, so when Depp arrives he immediately connects to the only dead guy who everyone else can see.
The plot is pretty straight-forward. Depp returns to his family estate after his untimely burial to find his once-thriving family has fallen on hard times and vows to return them to prominence. He finds that the reason behind his families failing fortunes are due to his spurned love for eternal witch Angelique Bouchard (Green) who only once his love - even though Barnabas claims she has no heart. They go back and forth - with awkward love scenes and plenty of 70s pop-culture references. Yet despite all that is going on, it still feels like the movie drags. Plus, I can count on one hand the number of times I laughed - not good for a movie that is going after the comedy angle. Having never seen the original show it was based on - I can't really compare the two, though I'm sure fans of the original will have a lot of fuel for their complaints.
I would only recommend this film to die-hard Burton fans - it still bears his mark but it's a far cry from his earlier work. This is one that an easily wait to rent.