Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Dark Shadows

directed by Tim Burton


Just when you thought we'd had all the reluctant, sophisticated vampires we could handle, along comes another angsty daylight-shirker. Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) is a member of a wealthy eighteenth-century family making their mark in the New World through the fishing industry. But he makes the mistake of spurning Angelique (Eva Green), a servant girl who also happens to be a witch, and compounding his error by falling in love with another woman. So Angelique curses his entire family and turns him into a vampire.

Fast forward to 1972, when the Collins family still exists, but they've fallen on hard times and can't afford to maintain the family pile. This doesn't stop them from employing Victoria (Bella Heathcote) as a governess for the young David (Gulliver McGrath), who sees ghosts ever since his mother died. They also have a psychiatrist for him, the hard-drinking Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter). Theirs is a dysfunctional family: Carolyn (Chloë Grace Moretz) is a sullen, uncommunicative teenager, David's father Roger (Jonny Lee Miller) seems shifty, and both he and his sister Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer) have let the family business slide. When construction workers unearth a chained coffin, Barnabas is freed from centuries of confinement, but the family he returns to is not what he expected.

The story introduces quite a lot of characters, and takes so long doing this that by the middle of it I wasn't sure what was at risk. At this point it's a fish-out-of-water comedy about a stuffy, old-fashioned vampire adrift in the late 20th century. Johnny Depp seems to be playing the single character he does best, some kind of amalgam of all of his (mainly) Tim Burton roles from Edward Scissorhands onwards, minus any hint of Jack Sparrow.

The second half picks up a little when Barnabas tries to revive the family fortunes and Angelique turns up to interfere. Dark Shadows is populated with various types of ghouls, and horrid things regularly happen to some of the characters. But it's done in such a way that the story is really light-hearted and any violence is mostly off-screen or it has a slapstick quality rather than being gory. When Angelique gets hurt she cracks like a china doll, so we're encouraged to think of this conflict more in terms of breaking a toy that's gone haywire rather than as the Collins family beating up a woman. It's dehumanisation, and maybe there's some sinister subtext to be read into that if you want, but for the most part it means that no matter what happens to people in this movie it's a comforting kind of gruesome.

Victoria looks confusingly similar to Barnabas' tragic lost love, but aside from that her personality is totally flat. She doesn't get much screen time, but when she does she doesn't display enough balls to make her a character worth caring about. Aside from Barnabas, few of the Collins family get much opportunity to shine. The story could have done with a narrower focus instead of presenting us with this horde of bit-players.

Dark Shadows is very typically Tim Burton in look and tone, and it has moments of humour. However I didn't think the roles stretched any of the established actors, and Seth Grahame-Smith's script is sentimental, slow to start, and not as funny as the visuals suggest it ought to be. This film is a light, frivolous way to spend a couple of hours but I wouldn't call it essential viewing.

22nd May 2012

Film Details

Year: 2012

Categories: Films


Classification: 12

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