Dark Shadows (2012) – Review

3 Stars

Dark Shadows is Tim Burton’s strongest work in nearly a decade. After stumbling mightily, in recent years with the awful Willy Wonka and Alice in Wonderland, Burton has resurrected his career and macabre like storytelling. Much has been made of the seemingly endless stream of collaborations between director and star over the last 20 years but Dark Shadows is the best product the two have spit out in quite some time. The screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith nimbly moves from the 1700s to 1970 with all the expected counter-culture references and even some very amusing moments regarding societal changes. Once again Depp shows his talent for light physical comedy and is right at home playing the outsider, this time a 200-year-old vampire.

The story begins in 1776, Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp), the heir to a family fishing empire, has an affair with one of his lovely servants, Angelique (Eva Green). The housekeeper isn’t only in love with the Collins boy but has been infatuated with him since childhood. When he jilts Angelique for his fiance Josette, the former cast a spell that causes the bride-to-be to throw herself off a cliff into the ocean. In a moment of grief, Barnabas leaps after her to his death, but he survives because the spurned witch has turned him into an immortal vampire. His monstrous secret discovered, Angelique gathers a mob to capture and bury Barnabas alive for eternity.

Nearly two centuries later, in the year 1972, a group of construction workers uncover the unearthed coffin, setting free the murderous hungry Barnabas to feed on the unaware humans. Not understanding he is 200 years late to the party, the vampire makes his way back to his former estate. The grounds have seen better days since his departure, now in decrepitude and furnished with gaudy interior design patterns, the once mighty Collinswood Mannor is a town joke. The inhabitants range from the mindless janitor Willie (Jackie Earle Haley), family matriarch, Elizabeth Collins (Michelle Pfeiffer), fifteen-year old hormonal Carolyn (Chloë Grace Moretz), and the young boy, David. Most peculiar of the group is the presence of a mysterious nanny calling herself, Victoria. Her striking resemblance to Barnabas’ lost Josette leads to an attraction and affection for this family. The once mighty family monarch, now in a state of paleness and thirsting for blood agrees to protect the Collins from harm, and to restore the good name of the family.

This means restoring the fishing rights for Collins port to the original contract holders, steering the fisherman away from dealing with the monopoly run by Angel Bay company. The CEO is none other than the witch Angelique, not grown a day old but much richer in the intervening years since she buried the heartbroken Barnabas. Aware of his resurrection and business intent Angelique once again makes a play for her lustful target, only to be jilted again for the attention of another love interest.

Dark Shadows is at its best when it stick to the fish-out-of-water elements of the story. Depp again finds nuances to suggest humor and his physical grace is reminiscent of the unforgettable Max Schreck’s performance in Nosferatu. Seth-Grahame Greene’s script is aided by the affection director Tim Burton clearly has for the source material. The plot device of warring fishing rights is rather lame and not up to the beginning scenes that set the film up as an intriguing and humorous horror-comedy. I’m recommending Dark Shadows because it sets an appropriate tone early on and sticks to it, mixing suicides, blood-sucking, and the abandonment of children, with a few laugh-out-loud moments. This is Burton’s most assured work in a long time.

Director: Tim Burton
Stars: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green

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