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'Dark Shadows' Movie Review

About.com Rating 3 Star Rating


'Dark Shadows' movie poster
© Warner Bros.
Actor Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton have stuck together longer than many marriages, collaborating on eight films over a 22-year span dating back to 1990's Edward Scissorhands. The latest manifestation of their mutual love for dark humor is Dark Shadows, a big-screen adaptation of the 1960s vampire soap opera that has achieved cult status amongst a fanatical portion of the population.

The Plot

In late 18th century Maine, Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp), the carefree son of a wealthy fishing family, has a tryst with a servant girl named Angelique (Eva Green) but spurns her when her affections run too deep for his taste. Unfortunately for him, she's a witch, and an insanely jealous one at that. Convinced that Barnabas' parents are the roadblock preventing them from being together, she casts a spell that kills them both. Then, when she spies Barnabas drowning his sorrows in the affections of a young lady named Josette (Bella Heathcote), Angelique hypnotizes her into taking a long walk off a short cliff. Distraught, Barnabas hurls himself off the cliff as well, but unbeknownst to him, Angelique has cursed him with vampirism to prolong his misery for an eternity. If that's not bad enough, she sics an angry mob on him who bury him alive in a coffin for two centuries.
Johnny Depp in 'Dark Shadows'.

Johnny Depp in 'Dark Shadows'.

Photo: Peter Mountain © Warner Bros.

Cut to 1972: construction workers unwittingly unearth Barnabas, and he returns to his family estate to find it disheveled, the Collins name tarnished and their seafood business a shell of what it once was -- in large part because the seemingly immortal Angelique has spent the past 200 years building a rival fishing business that has run them into the ground. Family matriarch Elizabeth Collins (Michelle Pfeiffer) recognizes Barnabas and soon comes to believe his claim of being a vampire, but she tells the rest of the clan -- daughter Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz), brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), his son David (Gulliver McGrath), David's psychiatrist Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) and caretaker Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley) -- that he's a relative visiting from England.

Barnabas' arrival coincides with that of Victoria Winters, a young woman who shows up in response to a want ad for a new governess for David. Barnabas is immediately struck by her resemblance to Josette, and he determines to find a way to woo her, despite his comical ignorance of the conventions of the age. But the centuries haven't erased Angelique's jealous streak, and it doesn't take long for her to set her sights on Barnabas and his new love.

The End Result

If the plot summary for Dark Shadows sounds busy, that's because it is. It's a scattered mess of a script that seems to bite off more than it can chew, containing numerous subplots (Isn't Victoria supposed to be, like, spending time with David?) that amount to little, while even major story lines -- like the Barnabas-Victoria relationship -- all but vanish for long stretches. In the movie's defense, some of the overreaching ambition may have to do with the script's attempts to tie in plots from the original show (Not having seen the show, I'm no expert.). Still, that doesn't excuse the shoddiness of the writing or the laziness of some of the gags (An extended musical montage contains some cringe-worthy moments.), all of which doesn't instill much confidence in writer Seth Grahame-Smith's Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter or his ability to pen the recently announced Beetlejuice 2.

That said, Depp brings the uneven material to life, glossing over the hollow moments with charm and total commitment to his clichéd but endearing fish-out-of-water shenanigans. Green matches his energy, stealing many of her scenes, while the remainder of the excellent cast is sadly underutilized, largely playing straight men to the protagonist-antagonist duo.

Eva Green in 'Dark Shadows'.

Eva Green in 'Dark Shadows'.

Photo: Peter Mountain © Warner Bros.

Fans of the original TV show probably won't appreciate the spoof-ish nature of this adaptation -- a goofier, more comedic approach than Depp and Burton's previous horror-comedy collaboration Sleepy Hollow -- a tone that undermines the moments when the story attempts to play things serious. While Burton might catch a large portion of the flack for Dark Shadow's shortcomings, it feels like more of a script issue. The film's colorful, '70s soft-focus look is attractive -- much more so than the eye-hemorrhaging Alice in Wonderland -- and despite some flat jokes and the failed attempts at drama, the lighthearted air is likable and reminds us of why we keep eating up these Depp-Burton pics.

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