Dark Shadows is the latest celluloid offering from the unholy Trinity of Burton, Depp and Bonham-Carter. Although die hard fans can take comfort in the fact that it is filled with bizarre characters and darkly Gothic set pieces, Burton's new film fails to reach the heights of his previous work. In the end, the film falls flat. It is, perhaps, evidence that Burton and Depp should take a break from one another, instead of churning out pale imitations of their earlier collaborations.
Dark Shadows is the story of Barnabas Collins, the son of an eighteenth century fishing magnate, who spurns the sexual advances of a servant girl. Unbeknownst to Barnabas, this particular servant girl, the irrepressible Angelique, is actually an evil sorceress. Scorned and heart-broken, Angelique weaves a curse with which to enslave the Collins family for all eternity. The curse kills Barney's parents, causes his lover to jump off a cliff and turns him into a vampire. (Some spell, eh?) Our pale hero is then locked in an iron coffin and buried for two hundred years, while the wicked Angelique continues to wreak havoc on the descendent of the lover who spurned her. When Barnabas is unwittingly released from his prison, the year is 1972 and Angelique is running a fishing business, running the town of Collinsport and running the remaining Collinses into the ground.
What transpires could be a classic fish out of water story; an eighteenth century gentleman trapped in nineteen-seventies America, played for laughs. And indeed, there are a few chuckles to be had, particularly when Barnabas encounters a lava lamp for the first time, or chats with hippies over a smoking joint. But the laughs are few and far between, and the thrust of the story comes from the rivalry between Angelique and Barnabas.
The dialogue is clichéd at best, and the chemistry between characters feels stilted. As a result, it is almost impossible to care about the fate of the Collins family and the fishy rivalries with Angelique. The overload of supernatural characters also makes it difficult to keep track of the plot. The small Maine town is plagued by a cavalcade of ghosts, vampires and witches. At one point one character, previously neglected in the script, suddenly sprouts fur and whiskers, uttering the immortal line 'I'm a werewolf ok? Let's not make a big deal out of it.'
And this exposes one of the major flaws in Dark Shadows. It is clear that, while Burton thinks he is subverting the supernatural genre, he never quite pulls it off. The humour is just not funny enough, and so, it remains a parody of itself rather than of vampire movies in general.
Considering how many elements Burton has tried to cram into this film, it's not surprising that the characters all feel under-developed, not people but cardboard cut outs of people. All members of the expected pageant are in attendance: the powerful woman scorned, the noble hero with a weakness for pleasures of the flesh, the virtuous child, the weak-willed father. Perhaps playing with such familiar archetypes is another way in which Burton tries to subvert the form? For me, the effect is one of absence rather than knowing omission.
That all being said, the film is not completely awful, and the actors perform solidly, given the quality script from which they must work. Helena Bonham Carter clearly relishes the role of a drunken psychiatrist (though she, like others, is given too little to do) and Depp is clearly enjoying his part immensely. The cinematography is epic and the set design is incredibly impressive. Unfortunately, the plot has so many holes that it wouldn't look out of place on a cheese counter in Switzerland.
Perhaps I am being too harsh on Dark Shadows, but, when the credits began to roll, I found myself wishing that I had stayed at home and watched Edward Scissorhands or Ed Wood instead.