Tim Burton. Johnny Depp. Together again. Woopty-fucking-doo.
Dark Shadows is a big screen adaptation of a television show that apparently was popular decades before I was born, and is about a rich young man named Barnabas Collins who is cursed by his evil witch mistress Angelique to forever being a vampire. She then locks him in a coffin for 200 years. He is released in the 1970's, where he discovers that his family's estate is in ruins, his odd family is odd and that Angelique is still alive and kicking, and also the business competition.
It's a story only Burton and Depp would think of bringing to the big screen.
Dark Shadows is the best Depp/Burton duet since 1999's Sleepy Hollow, but that's not saying much since I hated Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland and even Sweeney Todd. Their satanic union has become nothing more than an excuse to dress Depp up in strange outfits and have him do what he does best: act strangely. That's not art, or entertainment. It's hubris. Box office gold hubris, but hubris nonetheless.
In Dark Shadows, both Depp and Burton show incredible restraint, at least for a while. Though there are certainly Burton-esque attributes that permeate the movie - the wild trees, the exaggerated ocean cliffs, the ornate mansion - and Depp wears strange outfits and acts strangely, Dark Shadows feels like a fully realized movie, not an overindulgence in special effects and absurd characters and plot points. It's funny and clever, and Depp is at the top of his game. Michelle Pfeiffer also turns in a fine performance.
But Burton just couldn't help himself.
Dark Shadows falls apart in the third act, and in a painfully bad way. Where the first portion of the movie dwells on the simple things - Depp, a vampire from the 18th century, reacting to modern things like cars, television and hippies; his efforts to rebuild the family business; his interactions with his newfound family members - Dark Shadows becomes a convoluted mess as it nears its conclusion.
The battle of wits between Barnaby and Angelique quickly devolves into something only Hollywood can love: a mash-up of forgettable action and special effects. It's an unfortunate end to what otherwise is a semi-unique and refreshing comedy. I hoped the movie would end with Barnaby figuring out a more clever solution to rid himself of Angelique, but explosions and special effects prevail.
Most mystifying is how the Victoria Winters storyline is all but abandoned in lieu of the lame direction Burton takes the film. After a brief narration of how Barnaby came to be, the movie begins with a lengthy and intriguing introduction to Victoria (Bella Heathcote). As soon as Barnaby comes along, he becomes the film's sole focus (as Depp tends to become in any movie), and Burton never spends the time to develop Victoria or her relationship with Barnaby in a satisfying way. Depp and Heathcote have no chemistry together, though it's hard to tell for sure because they spend all but a couple minutes on screen together.
Dark Shadows begins strong but ends weak. It loses its bite well before the credits roll. The movie is less chaotic than Burton's other recent efforts, but that's not enough.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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