- Movie Rating -

Dark Shadows (2012)

| May 17, 2012 | 0 Comments

Dark Shadows is a movie that begins with a wonderfully melodramatic fire, but then ultimately sinks under a plot that seems to give up half way through.  Like all Tim Burton productions, it looks marvelous, evoking a centuries old family-built seaside village and a mansion that seems to reek of ancient family secrets.  Unfortunately, like a lot of Tim Burton’s lesser movies its visuals don’t match its story in their full-blooded creativity.  It leaves a lot to be desired.

The set-up is well-founded.  We learn that the fishing village of Collinsport was the legacy of the Collins family, who sailed to America in the 18th century and settled in Maine in order to start a new life.  On board was young Barnabus Collins (Johnny Depp), who grew to be a strapping young lad who was expected to carry on the family tradition.  In a series of beautifully-made opening scenes, we see the construction of the town, and the construction of Collinwood, the family manor.  Barnabus, we learn, was in love with the beautiful Josette (Bella Heathcote), whom he intended to marry.  Unfortunately that did not sit well with Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), the house maid who wanted Barnabus for her very own.  He spurned her, but was unaware that she was secretly a witch.  Under her influence Josette threw herself off a cliff and cursed Barnabus to be a vampire, chained-up and buried alive in a coffin forever.

Barnabus is unearthed 190 years later in 1972, unaware and confused by the changes that have taken place over two centuries.  Almost immediately he sets about to return to Collinwood and finds that his descendants haven’t exactly kept up the family name.  The manor is run down, the family business is on life support and everyone at Collinwood seems as if they could care less.  Occupying the house are Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, the family matriarch (Michelle Pfeiffer); Roger Collins (Jonny Lee Miller) her worthless thieving brother; Willy Loomis (Jackie Earle Hayley) the caretaker; Carolyn Stoddard (Chloe Grace-Moretz), Elizabeth’s spaced-out teenage daughter; Ten year-old David Collins (Gulliver McGrath); Also about is Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham-Carter), the family psychiatrist who lives in a state of drunkenness when she isn’t fighting off a hang-over.

Also in the house is the new governess,  a woman with a mysterious past who calls herself Victoria Winter, and to Barnabus’ delight, looks exactly like his lovely Josette.  She has a dark history that is sad, but never really seems relevant to the rest of the plot.

Barnabus quickly comes to understand that the family, and its fortunes, have fall into disrepair.  The fishing village that he helped to build is now in the hands of a woman who has been single-handedly responsible for nearly running the family right out of business.  Barnabus is not surprised to find the culprit is the witch Angelique, who has lived on these 200 years, and still seeks revenge, not just on him but on his family name.

The plot involving Angelique is canned and tiresome, leading to The Big Showdown with lots of fires and explosions and magic powers.  The best parts of Dark Shadows are the moments of shock and awe that 1972 has on Barnabus’ old world style.  He’s perplexed by television (particularly The Carpenters), by automobiles, and by rock music – particularly Alice Cooper whom he decries as “The ugliest woman I have ever seen!”  At one point he is particularly fixated on Carolyn’s lava lamp, regarding it: “It looks like a pulsating beacon of blood and urine!”  I never thought about it, but he’s right.

If the movie achieves nothing else, then it is an example of why Johnny Depp is one of our best and most charismatic actors.  He is a good looking actor who could have used those looks as a ticket to easy paychecks in action pictures and romantic comedies.  Yet, he is smarter than that, choosing projects that allow him to try on different hats, accents, outfits and personalities.  His gallery of characters all possesses a certain inviting flare.  There’s nothing dull or boring about them.  He has the ability to raise even the most mundane material out of the doldrums.  Here, he plays Barnabus Collins as a man who really does seem to have come from the 18th century.  He is erudite, formal and has a mind still steeped in the social tradition of a bygone age.

Unfortunately it is a performance at the service of a plot that ultimately goes nowhere. The movie was written by a new screenwriter named Seth Grahame-Smith, whose very short list of credits includes Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter due out later this summer. Based on this film and the promise of that film, he’s doesn’t seem to be aiming to be the next Norman Mailer. His script is unfocused, keeping Barbabus dead-center while the other characters remain unfocused and half-written.  There are ideas here that seem to promise great things but then don’t go anywhere.  The movie is so overwhelmed by style that it can’t find a narrative drive.  This is one half of a good movie – the good half being Depp’s performance, while the other half never quite gets off the ground.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.