Tim Burton's supernatural soap is a mere Shadow of its source
Published: May 10, 2012
Dark Shadows2 Stars
Dark Shadows is a movie you'd like to support, if only because some people are being so damn precious about it. As soon as the realization hit that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp had elected to pay tribute to the cult horror soap by lampooning it, fans of the original cried blasphemy. Are we really so enamored of our pop-cultural past that even its cute crap must now be approached with stone-faced solemnity?
On a basic plotting level at least, Dark Shadows arrives intact. New Englander Barnabas Collins (Depp) is cursed with vampirism and chained inside a coffin; two centuries later, he's set free to stalk the old neighborhood while serving as a figure of fascination to his confused descendants. This setup should be the cue for the movie to have all manner of fun with some of the absurdities of the source material: Why, for example, do the latter-day Collinses find nothing amiss in the arrival of a “cousin” who looks, speaks and acts exactly like his 18th-century namesake and only goes out at night? Instead, the remake has Barnabas reveal his true nature immediately to family matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer) – thus robbing his character of most of his menace and plunging us into yet another bathetic Burton parable about the need for dysfunctional families to pull together. The comedy, such as it is, largely consists of seeing Depp (performing on total autopilot) react quizzically to various inanimate artifacts of the late-Vietnam era, from lava lamps to Karen Carpenter. Watching this movie is like standing in a dimly lit Hallmark store and furiously cross-referencing between two birthday cards: one that reads “I love our CRAZY family” and the other emblazoned “If you were born in 1972 … ”
It's a real mess. The plotting is haphazard and nonsensical, even by the subterranean-level standards of the Burton oeuvre. Conflicts are introduced and promptly left to rot, and screenwriters John August and Seth Grahame-Smith don't seem to notice that the arbitrary changes they've wrought to the Dark Shadows template have left several characters with virtually nothing to do.
Nowhere is this plainer than in the case of family governess Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote), who is established as a pivotal player and then all but abandoned. But every time the film bothers to check in on her, it crackles to life. A flashback to her traumatic childhood, set to Alice Cooper's “Ballad of Dwight Frye,” hints at what the movie might have been had it set its sights on the truly daring. Vicki is ostensibly the reincarnation of Barnabas' long-lost soul mate, which the script forgets with absurd regularity; perhaps Team Burton felt the concept of a good girl in love with a vampire would ring too familiar to the Twilight crowd. Instead, they focus on the predatory lusting of Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), the witch who damned Barnabas to an eternity of bloodsucking yet still yearns to possess him sexually. The conceit of the nymphomaniacal harpy, apparently, can never be overworked. Talk about your centuries-old curses.
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