Dark Shadows

Barnabas: "Love means never having to say you're sorry. However, it is with sincere regret that I must now kill all of you."

Based on a 1960s/70's soap opera of the same name, this is the second attempt to capture the zany supernatural antics of this beloved classic. Okay, maybe "beloved classic" is a bit of a stretch, but it is fondly remembered by a lot of people. I've never had a chance to see the original soap, but I did see the remake done in the early 90's, which I only remember vaguely as being moody and romantic. This new one gives us a very typical set-up of supernatural monsters with vampires, ghosts, and witches, oh my. They don't really explain the rules of the supernatural, but I guess that isn't really the point of the film. It's about the actions of the characters, not what they can do. Unfortunately, although a lot of it works really well, a good chunk of it doesn't.

Johnny Depp is brilliant as usual as the lead vampire Barnabas Collins. He is creepy, funny, and oddly sympathetic. I say it's odd because, he really is a monster here. The character kills people indiscriminately, even if he is apologetic about it. Yet somehow he makes the character work, even though at times I think it's in spite of the writing, not because of it. Eva Green plays the maniacal and villainous witch Angelique, and she really gives an over the top performance. Most of the time she succeeds, even though she goes a little too far a couple of times. Michelle Pfeiffer (Elizabeth Collins Stoddard) is perfect as the aging matriarch, which in a nice change of formula isn't the typical evil, manipulative character. I wasn't impressed with Helena Bonham Carter (Dr. Julia Hoffman), who plays the family doctor/shrink. I usually like her performances, but for some reason I can't quite put my finger on, she doesn't work in this movie.

Chloë Grace Moretz is Carolyn Stoddard, an angry, rebellious 15-year-old with a secret that literally comes out of nowhere. I guess if I watched it again I'd be able to pick out clues, but I'm not sure if they did enough to make the reveal of her secret in the third act worthwhile. Jonny Lee Miller (Roger Collins) and Jackie Earle Haley (Willis Loomis) are marginally important secondary characters. I don't think they add much, unfortunately, although Haley is great with what he was given. Miller also did well with his character, but I'm not entirely sure if his character is important enough to be there at all. The other kid (Gulliver McGrath/David Collins) is also kinda just there, even though he had a fun little plot of his own.

Strange that for me, the stand-out performance is also the most underutilized character. Bella Heathcote plays both the governess, Victoria, and Barnabas's dead paramour, Josette. She is subtle and haunting in both roles, evoking the right amount of creepy pathos. I especially liked Victoria, who is mysterious and vulnerable and has the most definitive character arc besides Barnabas. Her back-story, although not so original, worked really well. I just wish they had paid a bit more attention to her character, since she is pretty central. For big chunks of the film, her character is pretty much forgotten.

The effects are excellent for the most part, and I think that's because they used primarily physical effects. There isn't a lot of glaring fake CGI, and the few times where it is used are really beautiful, save one. I won't go into details, but it is jarring how badly handled this one special effect is. It didn't break the scene, but I cringed at how clumsy it looked. Other than that one effect, the overall tone is fun but a bit odd. They chose to set everything in 1972 (except for the origin flashback, which was in the 1700's), so everything has a groovy vibe. Colors are bright, clashing, and occasionally psychedelic. It creates a nice discordance with the darkness of everything else, which is very dark, grey, and gothic. It did allow for some very fitting and wonderfully chosen 70's music. If nothing else, the soundtrack is awesome.

So I'm a little torn. I enjoyed the movie, but wasn't thrilled. Some of the dialogue is really witty, and some is really clunky. It has some very dark and goofy humor, but it isn't actually funny. It's campy, but isn't a parody. It felt almost like it was just paying homage to the source material. Unfortunately it's a little too serious in places and too silly in other places to hit the right balance. It has some strange pacing and narrative issues.

I guess in some ways, it's just another ho-hum Tim Burton outing. And that's a shame, because I used to love Tim Burton movies.

2 1/2 out of 4 exploding fish canneries.

J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.

5 comments:

Juliette said...

I think the tone is the biggest problem with this film - it can't decide whether to be funny or scary (I wanted more funny!). I agree about Victoria as well. I liked the ghost effects, though again, they really belonged in a scarier movie.

Gracie said...

I haven't seen it yet, but it sounds weirdly like the original soap, which all my friends and I used to watch right after school. Maybe that's what they were going for.

HellBlazerRaiser said...

The original DARK SHADOWS is my favorite TV series of all time. It's been my #1 for two decades now.

When I first saw the promos and clips for the film, I was kind of cranky that they were going for a comedy angle. I also detest Helena Bonham Carter, although I liked her in FIGHT CLUB.

As more promos and bits were released, the comedy angle started to grow on me.

The movie, for me, has the typical Tim Burton "humor" that was in BATMAN, BATMAN RETURNS and SLEEPY HOLLOW (change Ichabod Crane to Ichabod Crane Collins and make Lady Van Tassel's maiden name Bouchard and BOOM! Burton's DAR SHADOWS and SLEEPY HOLLOW fit perfectly within the same continuity, with the 70s Collins Family being descended from Ichabod's line....but I digress....) and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was just enough humor, just enough horror and just enough action.

The twists with David (Laura really did speak to him!) and Carolyn (lycan like her great uncle Quentin!) worked perfectly.

In the original DARK SHADOWS, Barnabas did not originate as a heroic character. (Neither did Dr. Hoffman.) Barnabas killed many characters (even after he became the heroic lead, Barnabas still murdered many characters – the most infamous being Reverend Trask, who Barnabas bricked up alive behind a wall. Barnabas shot Skye Rumson in the chest, killed his "cousin" Karl Collins, made Magda and Sandor his slaves, savagely beat Willie multiple times, tried to kill Adam and Eve multiple times and I believe Barnabas killed one or two other Trasks before the series ended.)

Dr. Hoffman helped Barnabas cover up his kidnapping, torture and brainwashing of Maggie Evans (by erasing her memory of the entire ordeal) and never held Barnabas accountable for his crimes and was complicit in the Barnabas' murder of Dr. Woodward.

Anyway, Depp-Barnabas killing the characters he killed was in character for him.

I was irked by Helena Bonham Carter's Julia – she was a little off, but the end made up for that. Hopefully, there will be a sequel.

I adored how Angélique was the big wig in Collinsport. She was a little over the top, but then again, Angélique was always a drama queen.

It wasn't perfect, but DARK SHADOWS worked for me and I loved it.

Dan O. said...

Definitely has its moments of fun, but they all start to go away by the last act when the tone shifts from goofy comedy to campy melodrama and takes all of the steam out of its story. Very lazy direction by Burton but definitely not terrible. Good review J.D.

TheShadowKnows said...

I didn't think it was horrible, but it was a whole lot of nothing much. First problem: it wasn't needed. I mean, come on, a remake of Dark Shadows... in 2012? And set in 1972, for no particularly good reason? Second problem: as someone else mentioned, tone. Unlike Cabin in the Woods, which deliberately and carefully straddled horror and comedy, the tone of this movie seemed more like Burton couldn't make up his mind which to do, or wanted to have it both ways and couldn't quite achieve it. Third problem: structure. The movie starts off with a lengthy flashback about Barnabas, then focuses on Victoria for about fifteen minutes, after which she hands the movie back to Barnabas and is rarely seen again (this is literally true). IMO the movie either should have followed Barnabas all along, telling the story through his eyes, or (better still) told the whole story through Victoria's eyes. Generally speaking, unless your name is Kurosawa, you should avoid juggling protagonists and viewpoints lest you disorient and alienate your audience. And let's face it: Burton - while a good director - is no Kurosawa.

As a measure of how little the actual action in the film engaged me, I found myself making note of references to earlier Burton films, such as the joke about holes cut in expensive sheets (from Beetlejuice) and the hand gesture Barnabas made when he was hypnotizing people (a gag from Ed Wood, which also starred Depp). Plus the usual corpse pale people with funny hair. I really love a lot of Burton's movies (Nightmare Before Christmas, Ed Wood, Beetlejuice, Sleepy Hollow, Corpse Bride, and more) but this one just felt tired and hollow. Too bad.