Dark Shadows: Review

Where the shadows are not in fact all that dark.

Screen Art
Title Dark Shadows
Studio Village Roadshow Pictures
Director Tim Burton
Starring Johnny Depp, Eva Green, Etc
Genre Gothic Comedy
Rating PG-13
Release Year 2012

Dark Shadows is an odd film. To be fair, it’s a gothic comedy directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp as a vampire – it was bound to be odd. And yet, it’s not so much the concept or setting as it is the lackluster execution that’s strange. The film is based on a ‘gothic soap opera’ by the same name that ran during the 60’s. Apparently, both Tim Burton and Johnny Depp were enormous fans of the show as children – a fact that makes the resulting film all the more vexing.

The premise for Dark Shadows isn’t particularly deep. As a young man, the wealthy Barnabas Collins (played by Johnny Depp) scorned the wrong woman, engaging in sexytime with the beautiful servant Angelique (Eva Green), but denying her any verbal expression of his love. Unfortunately for Barnabas, Angelique also happens to be a Voldemort level witch with one hell of a temper. A few curses later, and not only is everyone whom Barnabas loves dead, but she has transformed him into a vampire. And, because that wasn’t punishment enough, Angelique sees that the townsfolk give Barnabas a torch and pitchfork burial deep within the forest, where he is to be trapped for pretty much all time. That is, until an unwitting construction crew digs him up and severs the chains to his coffin two centuries later. Barnabas emerges in 1972 (not nearly as thirsty or pissed as he should be) to find a world rather different from the one he left behind.

The ‘man out of time’ mechanic works well here as it has for countless other films. Unfortunately, it’s underused, and (like most of the film’s humor) the best moments are found in the trailer. You can’t really fault whoever cut the preview – in fact, they should be applauded for their work. It’s just unfortunate that the pacing and humor all come off far better in the trailer than in the context of the film itself. And that’s one of the biggest issues with Dark Shadows; the film never feels like it’s moving anywhere important, instead lurching awkwardly between family gags, to vampire gags, to man-out-of-time gags, without ever really settling on one particular tone or direction. At some point the flick moves from an Adams Family style comedy, to an awkward, half-hearted tale of revenge, that none of the participants seem particularly invested in. Angelique’s position of, “If I can’t have you, no one can,” is hard enough to believe on paper, and makes even less sense as the film progresses. However, it’s even harder to believe that Barnabas is only mildly ticked off by everything she has done. This is a vampire that, after the murder of his family, has endured two-hundred years locked inside a coffin, and the best he can manage is to tell her (in rather cheeky terms) to kiss his ass? It just doesn’t work, and it I think it comes down to a matter of tone. The film is neither funny enough to disregard the failings of its plot, nor convicted enough to make the revenge plot stick (not to mention the entirely forgettable romance plot that ends up as little more than an afterthought). Thanks to that, the final act’s showdown feels out of place, and is further burdened by a minor plot-twist that is both unnecessary and very poorly executed. Oddly enough, the movie even ends with a shot that has absolutely no point except, perhaps, to suggest a sequel that I can’t imagine anyone truly thought would be made.

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That said, it’s not all bad. Depp’s vampire makeup and effects are more Nosferatu than they are Twilight, and the film is pretty nice to look at (with the mountainous fishing town setting providing some gorgeous shots). There are a few genuinely humorous moments as well, and the digs at McDonalds are admirable. In the end, however, the film’s greatest strength lies in its star. Johnny Depp is a joy to watch, and while the script is pretty bland, it’s fun to see Depp attack would-be mundane lines with a true sense of vigor and flair.


Dark Shadows is a disappointing effort that falls far short of its potential. Depp gives it his best, but the movie is plagued by poor pacing, a dull, meandering script, and a number of bizarre idiosyncrasies. Frequently throughout the film, for example, there are random, almost subliminal cuts to water smashing against the cliffs below. Okay, we get it – the cliffs are important – it’s where Barnabas became a vampire and where his first love died. And yes, we understand the foreshadowing – but that doesn’t mean there needs to be a shot of them every fifteen minutes. While Dark Shadows features a robust cast, there’s too much going on to fully make use of them, or see any real development of their characters, and it’s a frustrating endeavor to see go to waste. In the end, Dark Shadows is an awkward, disjointed film that never reaches the comic brilliance that its trailer suggests, and perhaps *ahem* should have stayed in the shadows.


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