Starring: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfieffer, Eva Green
Directed by: Tim Burton (“Alice in Wonderland”)
Written by: Seth Grahame-Smith (debut)
Since the days of “Edward Scissorhands,” the cinematic pairing of director Tim Burton with mega-star Johnny Depp has brought with it certain expectations: a Gothic tone, a chilly color palette, and Depp in some form of fright wig/pancake make-up combination. When it works, as in “Scissorhands” or “Sweeny Todd,” it’s a delightful marriage of style and quirk. When it doesn’t, however, as in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” or “Alice in Wonderland,” the end result is an exhausting mess of, well, style and quirk. But in a bad way.
In their eighth collaborative effort, Burton and Depp tackle a project seemingly tailor-made for their sensibilities: a big-screen adaptation of “Dark Shadows,” the cult TV soap opera from the late-’60s best known for it’s main character, vampire Barnabas Collins. Depp, of course, plays Collins, who narrates a grim prologue detailing his youth spent in colonial Maine. As the son of a wealthy fishing family, Collins meets with tragedy after romantically spurning Angelique (Eva Green), a family housekeeper who also happens to be a witch. Soon afterward, Collins’ parents are killed in an accident engineered by Angelique. She is also responsible for Collins’ fiancee Josette (Bella Heathcote) being bewitched into throwing herself off a cliff, as well as Collins himself being cursed to live out eternity as a vampire buried alive in a locked coffin.
The story jumps ahead to 1972 as a young woman, Victoria (also Bella Heathcote), travels to Collinwood to take a job as a governess for what remains of the Collins family. Led by matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfieffer) and featuring weaselly brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), rebellious teenager Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz) and haunted child David (Gully McGrath), the family is in shambles both financially and emotionally. The arrival of Victoria is meant to bring stability to David, who is grieving the loss of his mother. However Victoria has her own problems, namely a tragic childhood and ghost that looks just like her prowling the halls of the sprawling mansion passing on cryptic messages. And all of this happens before a construction crew accidentally frees Barnabas Collins, whose return prompts retaliatory action from the still-living Angelique (now known as Angel, the town’s powerful fishing magnate) as well as a whole mess of fish-out-of-water jokes. Crap, I haven’t even gotten to the fact that Helena Bonham Carter and Jackie Earl Haley are hanging around Collinwood, too.
If you think that sounds like too much plot and too many characters for a movie running just under 2 hours, you’re right. Threads are picked up and dropped at a moment’s notice. Heathcote’s Victoria is saddled with a laborious back story that fails to pay off in any way. On the flip side, Moretz’s Carolyn is given an out-of-left-field third act twist that’s explained away by one throwaway line of dialogue. Helena Bonham Carter’s Dr. Hoffman doesn’t offer much to the story beyond an eye-rolling set up for a sequel that is likely dead on arrival. And even with a fine performance by Depp, Collins is given little to do but stalk from plot point to plot point to deliver wry lines in an aristocratic accent. Pair things like that with a wildly inconsistent tone that veers on a whim from straight-faced melancholy to winking dry humor and we’re left with another tiresome disappointment from Burton wherein the only element given any attention seems to have been Johnny Depp’s make-up.