Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Johnny Depp, Eva Green, Chloe Moretz, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Jackie Earle Haley, Johnny Lee Miller and Bella Heathcote
Johnny Depp (This script must have been good as he doesn’t just star in any Tim Burton movie...) plays Barnabus Collins. As a child in the 1700s his family ran the largest fishing business in the United States, having a town named after them and building an immense fortune. However in adult life, when Barnabus refuses to return the love thrown towards him by servant and witch, Angelique (Played by Eva Green) she hypnotizes his wife into killing herself, turns Barnabus into a vampire and buries him alive. Two centuries later Barnabus is awoken and finds the Collins family on the brink of bankruptcy, he vows to return the family business back to its former glory however across those two centuries, Angelique has monopolized the fishing business in Collinsport and the return of Barnabus leads her to once again fight for his love.
Admittedly from that plot synopsis, Dark Shadows does not seem like the most thrilling of films on a narrative level. For the first half or so, that assumption is proven mostly correct. The main plot if you will of rival fishing businesses and a witch trying to seduce a vampire, are merely what brings these wacky characters together and serves as the frame and backdrop for multiple subplots. This film is based on a cult tv series and over the course of this just under two hour film, it does feel as if a tv series worth of story has been covered. The weakest element of this film is undoubtedly its script which on a structural level is all over the place. Characters are introduced, forgotten about for a large portion of the movie, then brought back and the next 10 or so minutes are entirely about their character, then they disappear again. The argument could be made that with so many different subplots none of them are developed to the level that they should, with each of them feeling like a story that was developed over multiple episodes rather than covered in a brisk five minutes, frequently through a montage.
However the films messy narrative and volume of arguably rushed subplots did not bother me, as I was enjoying the film too much for it to drag it down. As you expect with a Tim Burton film on a technical front this film is superb. The art direction of the Collins mansion, the costumes, the make-up, the cinematography are all as of now Oscar worthy. However despite this being very much a Tim Burton film, it is visually not a cliched Tim Burton film due to the 1970s setting. The time period means that we don’t have the usual gothic, foggy forests (Not as many anyway...) and instead Burton brings his sensibilities to more relatable constructs. The 70s setting also means that this film has a great soundtrack, with the friend who I saw it with remarking that some of the music cues were Tarantino-esque. Some may argue that the placement of the songs is an attempt to be overly quirky and wacky, however for me they always augmented the experience. This film is wacky and quirky in that Tim Burton way, however like the Wes Anderson quirks in Moonrise Kingdom, in Dark Shadows these quirks were either watered down or more manageable because the story, performances and setting was working for me.
Another fair criticism that could be made regarding Dark Shadows, is its wildly inconsistent tone. This film goes from what should be intense, emotional drama, straight to gory horror and straight to wacky comedy. For many this meant that the film had no idea what it wanted to be and left them not knowing what to feel, however for me, the tonal inconsistencies is exactly what this film wanted to be. The tone is arguably best epitomized through one scene where Baranbus speaks with some hippies. The scene is funny, seemingly another piece of fish out of water, time period related comedy and then all of a sudden Barnabus states something along the lines of, “I do apologize however I must now kill you all” and precedes to eat them to satisfy his vampire thirst. I watch that scene, smile and think brilliant, others perhaps don’t realize that the horror and comedy aspects of the film are aspiring to elicit the same response.
Regarding the performances, we arrive to the case of Johnny Depp. A friend of Movie Parliament’s, Tommy D, of Tommy D Talks Movies, wrote an article asking whether he was the only one growing sick of Johnny Depp. I assured him that he wasn’t, as I too have found myself growing tired of his now overrated and overdone Jack Sparrow performance and the fact that he seems to have stopped playing actual characters and actual people. In Dark Shadows once again Johnny Depp is giving a “performance” and despite my desire to see him play real people again and tackle real emotions, he kept me so entertained in this film and gripped when he was on screen that I didn’t care for the duration of this film. The biggest compliments I can give this film is that its structural and tonal flaws and the growing repetition of Johnny Depp’s performances didn’t bother me as I was enjoying it so much. Eva Green plays her role of Angelique well and I hope that we see her in more Hollywood films as she appeared to go missing in mainstream cinema post Casino Royale. Chloe Moretz cements her place as one of Hollywood’s most talented young actresses, while Helena Bonham Carter is...Helena Bonham Carter.
In the third act this film goes to some bizarre places that will either have audiences scoffing and laughing at the film or joyfully playing along. I really liked the twists, where they took the story and the characters and enjoyed the wildness, messiness and inconsistency of it. The reason being that there was a talented cast, having fun with their roles, a director who say what you will about his narrative senses but he certainly produces good looking movies and a story that was constantly throwing new things at you that while not as strongly as it could, still had an impact. I will admit this is a deeply flawed movie and I can absolutely understand people’s problems with this film, however I don’t understand the critical backlash and hate that this film received. In my eyes this is Tim Burton getting back to what he does best, it is one of the more enjoyable films I have seen all year and I think and hope that in years to come, hindsight and second looks will kick in and people will realize that no, they weren’t wrong about the films flaws, but they were wrong about the film’s entertainment value.
By Movie Parliament Prime Minister,
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