“Dark Shadows” (2012)

If you are looking for positives in the latest Tim Burton movie you will find one or two in the usual places.  He gives the best part to the mother of his children.  There are some beautifully composed images and the aesthetics of the cast aren’t anything to sneeze at either.  Christopher Lee has an amusing cameo and Danny Elfman tries his best on the soundtrack.


Other than that Dark Shadows is a mess on a scale all too common for Burton.  He’s ever a director with an eye for gothic composition, one who dreams of replicating the atmosphere of Roger Corman’s best horror movies or any of the other vehicles for his idol Vincent Price.  Where Burton consistently falls down is at script level.  Neither a writer himself nor, evidently, the type who can find and inspire collaborators, his movies are too often poorly constructed and paced.  Burton’s like some master chef whose prone to working from faulty recipes.  Dark Shadows is the latest in a long line of souffles that fail to rise.


Apparently it is based on an old television series.  Very old, as I’ve yet to come across anyone who has actually seen the show.  In any case, given that Johnny Depp is playing a vampire, the reasons for making Dark Shadows have as much to do with the Twilight demographic.  Barnabas Collins hails originally from the 18th century, as an overly narrated prologue makes clear.  If only Burton had the courage to play to his strengths and tell this early part of the story visually, without recourse to voice-over, some sense of mystery could have been established.  As it is the theme -if you can call some cliched pap about “blood being thicker than water” a theme - and the revenge plot line are spelt out in banal detail.  Barnabas is doomed for eternity after loving and leaving Angelique, a family servant who happens to be a witch.


When Barnabas is released from his coffin prison in 1971 he discovers that his family have fallen on hard times and that his nemesis is still around, running the local town.  His attempts to revive the Collins fortunes make for a half-hearted story, one in which Burton can’t really bring himself to exploit the fish-out-of-water comic potential of having a 200 year old man running around in the me-decade.


There is a surplus of characters and quality actors playing them but nobody has enough to do.  Michelle Pfieffer gets to roll her eyes and make faces as the world weary matriarch, Chloe Grace Moretz lies around pouting a lot as the jail bait daughter, Jackie Earle Haley fidgets aplenty as the faithful if alcoholic family retainer and Johnny Lee Miller sports a thinning hair line as the wastrel brother.  A subplot about a new nanny who can see ghosts is introduced early then ignored, though it does serve to showcase a young Australian actress with a very pretty face.


Eva Green proves out of her depth as Angelique but Burton enjoys dressing her up in cleavage enhancing gowns.  It is after all a very impressive cleavage.  Helena Bonham Carter steals what passes for the show though as a blowsy, boozy analyst who wants to live forever.  It is the only characterisation that seems to be grounded in the 1970s and betrays some real thought about period specifics and attitudes.


Burton fails with Dark Shadows because he doesn’t seem to know what type of film he’s making.  It’s not funny enough to be comedy, black or otherwise.  It lacks the consistency to convince as a style piece.  The romance is stilted and contrived and the horror elements don’t even pass muster on a comic book level.  Worst of all the characters are unsympathetic and unengaging, it’s too long and repetitive and many scenes are just plain redundant.


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