May 10, 2012


Tim Burton‘s Dark Shadows is a series of flawed assumptions resulting from remarkable incompetence.  Burton believes he’s blended a gothic style with a campy comedy, but his film is neither.  The characters act at being a bunch of kooky, Addams Family-style misfits, but they’re nothing more than vague, one-dimensional sketches or, in the case of the protagonist, a confused contradiction.  Seth Grahame-Smith‘s script thinks it has balanced out the story elements into a compelling narrative, but it’s a poorly plotted mess that eschews character development in favor of a softball joke or clumsy dark humor.  With the exception of a great performance from Eva Green, Dark Shadows flails wildly at concocting a strange brew, and only comes up with weak tea.

In 18th-century Collinsport, Maine, wealthy aristocrat Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) makes the grave error of sleeping with his maid Angelique Bouchard (Green), but giving his affections to his class-equal, Josette DuPres (Bella Heathcote).  Despite working as a servant, Angelique is secretly a witch (why she wouldn’t use her witchcraft to be more than a housekeeper is never explained), and she kills Barnabas’ beloved, curses him to be a vampire, and then buries him in a locked coffin.  He awakens 196 years later in 1972, and decided to restore his beloved Collinwood manor and the Collins family to their former glory.  His ancestors (again, it’s never explained how they happened since we never saw any of Barnabas’ siblings nor did he have any children) own only a few fisheries, and they have fallen into a general malaise.  There’s the blasé matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), her self-centered teenage daughter Carolyn (Chloe Moretz), Elizabeth’s sleazy brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), his son David (Gulliver McGrath) who sees the ghost of his dead mother, and the drunken Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter), who was hired three years ago to help David with the loss, and instead has been allowed to live in the house even though she contributes nothing.  Barnabas becomes smitten with the manor’s new governess, Victoria Winters (Heathcote, again), who also sees ghosts.  However, the vampire must face off against Angelique, who has maintained her youth and become the town’s most powerful figure.


Other than Barnabas and Angelique, none of the characters are deeper than the one word descriptions I offered.  Elizabeth: blasé; Carolyn: self-centered; Roger: sleazy; and so forth.  The script is painfully confused since it sets up the family to be the focal point and show how Barnabas changes their lives, but then it neglects the entire family to focus on the misadventures of its vampiric protagonist.  There’s not even a good reason for Hoffman to be in Dark Shadows since she adds nothing to plot and doesn’t reveal illuminate the personalities of anyone else in the movie.

Even with superfluous and undeveloped characters, there’s still value in trying to let Depp carry the film.  Unfortunately, Collins never amounts to much more than a single joke and a giant plot hole.  All of Barnabas’ comedy comes from the fact that he’s in constant culture-shock.  At first, it’s funny to see him react to paved roads and call Carolyn a prostitute, but then his man-out-of-time act wears thin.  Burton and Grahame-Smith also want a blend of dark comedy and pathos, but the mix only creates a gaping plot hole.  Barnabas is allowed to slaughter innocent citizens and sap people’s free will, but then he laments being a damned creature who can’t die.  Except he can die.  If he felt truly remorseful about killing, then he could just step into the sunlight and burn to a crisp.  Apparently, Barnabas feels bad about his crimes, but not that bad.


The only character the film has a good handle on is Angelique.  Yes, it makes no sense for her to work as a maid at the beginning when she has supernatural powers, but the character remains consistent throughout.  She’s a woman scorned, and she’s sexually aggressive, but she’s also a little pathetic at how badly she wants Barnabas.  Granted the movie never provides a strong case for why she would be infatuated with him, but that’s where Green’s performance comes in.  The actress chews the scenery with sultry abandon, and she cleverly gives Angelique an old woman’s voice.  It’s a nice little twist that makes the character both seductive and creepy at the same time.

If only Burton had such success in attempting to blend the gothic and the campy.  In some ways, Dark Shadows is Burton exercising some visual restraint.  He skews towards the gothic aspects of the visual palette rather than playing up his familiar high-contrast color schemes.  When Barnabas attacks the construction workers who unintentionally release him, there’s not a trace of Burton’s trademark style in the mix.  I appreciate the director’s desire to back away from becoming a self-parody (or at least more of a self-parody), but he hits a bit of a misstep because he doesn’t know how to put his restraint to dramatic effect.  Edward Scissorhands is a brilliantly realized combination of humor and pathos derived from a unique style.  Dark Shadows lacks that visual imagination, and more importantly, it doesn’t build a world worth exploring.  With Dark Shadows, he lazily embraces the comforts of popular 70s tunes and an Alice Cooper cameo.

Dark Shadows wants to have its blood and drink it too.  It wants to build a cast of interesting supporting characters, but it doesn’t want to spend time with them.  It wants to be edgy, but it turns around and apologizes for offending.  It wants to be funny, but it places the entire comic burden on a few jokes.  There’s nothing particularly infuriating about the film, because fury would require passion.  Dark Shadows wants to be frightful, but it’s just frightfully dull.

Rating: C-


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  • Toz

    Just saw it tonight. I give it a C. Disappointed with this one.

  • AlexHeyNa

    Never looked good to me. Thought it looked dumb from the start.

  • Grimcicle

    I’ve only seen the trailer, but all I got from it was a couple cheap laughs and a heavy dose of “Look! Johnny Depp being wacky!”

  • Thunder

    Looked like a wet cat turd from the first trailer. Too many silly head-turning-eyebrow-lifting responses to lame “jokes”. Getting pretty tired of the Depp/Burton marriage here.

  • Hambone

    When can we all just admit that Tim Burton has become completely irrelevant in the modern world of cinema. I don’t know a single person who gets excited about a Tim Burton project anymore. Every movie he’s been involved with since Sleepy Hollow has been a dud.

    • RIC

      While it is true that as of late he’s missed quite a few times, Big Fish was a masterpiece of epic proportions and you should be sacked for such blasphemy.

      I was going to see it strictly to stare at Eva Green and Chloe Mortez but given the less than stellar reviews I will wait. (Not to mention I’m a perv for thinking a 15 year old is somewhat gorgeous)

      • RIC


      • Hambone

        I respectfully disagree with your opinion of Big Fish. I’ve given that movie three chances, and I can never make it through it. I’m a fan of whimsy and mischief and magic, but something about the way Burton applies those attributes in Big Fish seems very forced and artificial.

  • Chachi

    While Burton has relied a little too much on re-makes the past few years, I am excited to see Frankenweenie. My second favorite Burton film is The Corpse Bride (after Sleepy Hollow) and while he only produced it, The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of my favorite films of all time. It seems that the stop motion world is the perfect medium for him to play in; easy enough to be dark and creepy yet can still be silly and it translates because it’s animated.

  • Irastev

    Thank you for the review. The movie is getting mixed critical reception, so I probably won’t be checking it out in cinemas.

    On a nitpicky note, I believe, the people in 1972 would be his descendants, not his ancestors. Unless he came 196 years from the future.

  • Dan

    At 196 years later it is his *descendants* not his “ancestors.”

  • Rastapopoulos

    Déjà vu. Boring. But you’re right about Eva Green, she’s great.

  • Tim

    It looks pretty awesome; I’ll see it regardless of what some review says.

  • Pingback: Review: ‘Dark Shadows’ favors style over substance – Rockford Register Star | Style In Life Journal()

  • Sal

    Very interesting writting. I expected more from Burton but even from the trailer and from the period it took this film to be made I knew it wouldn’t be a real movie but rather smt Burton and the cast did between movies for money and fun. Thanx

  • wacko3205

    Big Fish was amazing.

    Also…Big Fish was forced & artificial…that was the point of the film…his father made everything forced & artificial & only in the end did the son figure that out & get the need of it all.

    Big Fish was amazing.

    And I am ashamed to say that I really dug the shit outta Sweeney Todd.

  • Atomic Kommie Comics

    “it makes no sense for her (Angelique) to work as a maid at the beginning when she has supernatural powers”.

    In America during that time-period, women (even ones with supernatural powers) were second-class citizens.
    Using her abilities overtly would only have gotten her burned at the stake.
    Better to be subtle and manipulate the men around her until such time that she could assert herself in public.

    Check out my historically-accurate and almost totally-opposite film review at the True Love Comics Tales™ blog.

  • MaryRonate33

    “I wish Johnny Deep would make a movie with Tim Burton”

    Best tweets and comments about Dark Shadows at Dacritics org

  • cw

    Very disappointed. Not the least bit scary. No weird scary music only great hits of the 70′s. I didn’t go expecting to see a “parody” of Dark Shadows. No chemistry between Barnabas and Josette who is supposed to be his great “love.” They looked bored with each other. Barnabas and Angelique have too much chemistry and their supposed to “hate” each other? Making Dr. Hoffman and Willie drunks instead of giving them good scenes was an insult to Grayson Hall and John Karlen. The Caroline/werewolf was ridiculous. Elizabeth with a double barrell shot gun to fight off Angelique looked stupid. They shouldn’t have said it was a “remake” of Dark Shadows. Dark Disappointment would have been a better title.

    • TDR

      Totally agree with you!

  • Patti

    The movie was just okay. It wasn’t bad, just a little flat and silly. As for Big Fish — I love that movie. This was something quite different. The acting is Dark Shadows wasn’t the problem, it was the script.

  • Shaynapunim

    Saw it last night and it was boring. My friend slept through it . I love Johnny Dep. however he looked like Count Chocula instead of the original character. The makeup was over done and tiring. I was hoping this would. E a great movie for Johnny but its a real stinker. The movie spent most of its time explaining to the audience what was going on and why . I believe they thought that they needed to do this for the younger generation that was not familiar with the Dark Shadows soap. This is a major fail and a wasted opportunity to make a really cool movie. Sorry Johnny I’m still a fan but please make decent movie soon.

  • terry

    I knew that trash was going to flatline at the cinema when Depp’s character interrupted Karen Carpenter on the television by calling her a tiny songstress. Pathetic and lame.And of course Tim throws, as always, his f****** wife, again, in the movie. What’s her name?
    Lillieth Bohemian Poppy Ginger Vitas Carter. Or something like that.

  • potterboy

    two best thing about the movie. EVA GREEN, and BRUNO DELBONNEL.

    A Burton film has never looked this good. Just what he did with AMELIE, A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT, and HALF BLOOD PRINCE. BRUNO DELBONNEL shows his master of color palette again. i can’t wait for his work with the COENS next year.