As an avid Johnny Depp enthusiast, I always look forward to the energy that is brought to the screen by way of his unique and uncanny ability to metamorphose wholly into a character. Unfortunately, it felt to me as though he was merely going through the motions as fishing entrepreneur-turned-vampire Barnabas Collins in the revamp of the 1960’s soap opera Dark Shadows. Truthfully, the entire movie had a lack of…well, everything. A lack of flair, pizzazz, oomph, energy – pretty much any way you look at it, the outcome was hollow, lifeless, and dull, an unfortunate result, when considering the plethora of past success obtained by the usually stunning duo of Burton and Depp.
The seamless harmony that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp usually produce when working together simply didn’t happen this time around. And I even liked the admittedly suck-tastic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. For something that seemed fairly fresh and vibrant, everything felt so flat and predictable, a disappointment entirely. While I suppose that one should never maintain high expectations with this ever-fluctuating industry, I find that certain combinations are usually golden (DiCaprio/Scorsese), while many (like this one) have begun to lose their taste – like if you could only eat cheese pizza for the rest of your life. Don’t get me wrong, cheese pizza rocks, but sometimes it’s nice to mix things up.
The plot, from what I gather, is loosely based on the soap opera of the same name. In the movie, it is the mid-18th century and Barnabas Collins is caught up in a tiff of black magic after he rejects the affections of the beautiful young servant Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green). Out for revenge and unbeknownst to Barnabas, she conjures up a spell, killing Barnabas’ parents, and ultimately his true love Josette DuPres (Bella Heathcote), then curses Barnabas himself to become a bloodthirsty vampire. When the townspeople discover his secret, Barnabas is forced out of the town his family started, Collinsport, and buried in a locked box, forced to suffer alone for all of eternity.
Luckily for Barnabas, a mere two hundred years later, he is freed from his dank dwelling by a group of unsuspecting construction workers, who meet their untimely demise upon unearthing his coffin. Barnabas makes his was to Collinswood Manor, where he presents himself to the lady of the house, Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer), in attempt to gain her trust, allowing them to restore the Collins family reputation in the town of Collinsport.
Unfortunately, their plans are somewhat restricted, due to the most recent incarnation of the ageless witch Angelique, whose fishing company Angel Bay has taken a monopoly on the area’s import, formerly held by the Collins’ cannery. Additionally, an eerily similar incarnation of Barnabas’ old flame Josette is juxtaposed in the governess at Collinswood, Victoria Winters, a plot line that is never really fulfilled.
The biggest plot question I want to ask is – if Barnabas himself was locked in a box before he was given the chance to reproduce, and his parents were killed, how the hell are there any Collins’ left? There was no mention of a sibling, no long-lost cousin, nothing! Maybe I missed this somewhere along the way, but I just wanted to know if anyone else finds this to be an unresolved plot issue, or if I just wasn’t paying close enough attention.
To that point, most of what I take issue with it the plot itself. (Spoiler Alert!) At one semi-climactic point in the movie, daughter Caroline (Chloë Grace Moretz) has suddenly turned into a werewolf…which apparently happened when Angie sent a werewolf to bite her in her crib as a baby. This turn of events is disclosed and resolved in a mere matter of seconds, to which I ask what the purpose of its place was in the movie at all.
While I know I bashed on Johnny‘s lackluster performance already, I can’t say the rest of the cast was anything splendid either. Michelle Pfeiffer‘s performance as Elizabeth Collins was probably the most consistent out of the lot of them. Her somewhat dry and seemingly off-putting demeanor worked well for this character. Chloë Grace Moretz plays Elizabeth’s teen daughter Caroline, and for some reason seems consistently stoned (while I get it is 1972, she’s never shown smoking pot or anything of the sort), and is awkwardly sexualized, which was unnecessary and irrelevant to the plot as a whole.
Ten minutes into the movie I thought I had been given the wonderful treat of missing out on the presence of Helena Bonham Carter, but alas, she shows up as the drunken psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffman. Her performances are incredibly tiring, irritating, and exhausting to sit through, and I think it’s time to put a ban on her work with Burton. You would think after the mishaps that other couples have incurred through their work together (think Gigli), you would just not even go there. Sadly for the audience, such is not the case in this movie.
Whatever problems I have with the plot are mostly due to the undeniable lack of direction and understanding of what the movie is at its core. In an interview with Ellen DeGeneres earlier this week, Depp and Pfeiffer claimed that their goal was melodrama at it’s most extreme, to the point of ridiculousness – to which, I say is total and utter bullshit. That is what Burton and Depp are famous for – the utter ridiculous and unseemly, the unsettling and odd – that perfect combination that both questions reality and shoves your face into the steaming heap of crap that is life, and my friends, Dark Shadows does none of that, whatsoever.
All in all, Dark Shadows is a movie whose plot is a watered down, tired formula, akin to a weak shriveled up tea bag that has been used by one’s senile grandmother once too often. The life and energy that should have been at the forefront of this movie is unfortunately buried six feet under in a locked coffin, along with the creativity, wit, and originality, which are the usual accompaniments. My only hope is that this doesn’t mark the end of an era, so to speak, and that we can still look forward to more ingenious collaborations from these great minds, though next time I will undoubtedly maintain a bit of trepidation before I sign on wholeheartedly to what could be another Burton/Depp flop.
Dark Shadows- 5.5/10