REVIEW: “Dark Shadows” Is Burton’s Best In Years
Depp takes on the role of Barnabas Collins, head of the once-prestigious Collins family. In the 18th century, Barnabas has intimate “relations” with his maid Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), who falls in love with him and asks for his affection in return. When he cannot give it—and falls in love with the waif-like Josette (Bella Heathcote)—Angelique curses him and sends his beloved off a cliff. Barnabas is turned into a vampire, and she chains him to a coffin where he stays buried for nearly 200 years.
He returns in the year 1972, only to realize that his family has fallen from power and Angelique is essentially running Collinsport, the town he and his family built hundreds of years before. Elizabeth Collins (Michelle Pfeiffer) is now the matriarch of the family; her brother, Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), his son David (Gully McGrath), and her daughter Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz) are the only living Collins left.
Depp gives an unwavering performance as Barnabas, perfectly portraying Collins’ awkward readjustment as an 18th century vampire in the 1970s. As always, he completely disappears into the role he has been given.
Like Depp’s previous forays into Burton’s universe—the peculiar Edward Scissorhands or the eccentric Ed Wood—Barnabas Collins inexorably different from the people and the world that surrounds him; he is a fish out of water. Yet, there is an unmistakably human quality to the old vampire. He is, at his core, a hopeless romantic.
Eva Green gives a wonderfully tacky performance as the unstable Angelique. Her crazed antics match Depp’s Barnabas (with his multitude of eccentricities), and her facial expressions alone can cause an entire theater to roar in laughter. She is frisky, exciting and a joy to watch. The role is far different from the more popular ones she has taken on (a bond girl in “Casino Royale,” for instance) but her Angelique was a lovely surprise.
As most Burton films are, “Dark Shadows” is visually stunning. The filmmaker’s strength has always been his artistic direction. The sets are beautiful and each location lends itself to the ghoulish milieu “Dark Shadows” requires. Reconciling “The Carpenters,” mirror balls and darkness isn’t an easy task, but the film pulls it off. Oscar-winning costumer designer—and Burton regular—Colleen Atwood has created costumes that would make anyone’s dream list for Halloween.
The script itself is surprisingly funny and a bit tongue-in-cheek, and it is a refreshing take on a story that could have easily been soapy. Unfortunately, the humor did come at a cost, and that cost was character development.
Burton’s second variable in his film equation is his long-time girlfriend (and the mother of his children), Helena Bonham Carter. Bonham Carter is a seasoned actress with an Oscar under her belt, but as the psychiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman she is given little opportunity to give more than a raspy performance as drunken pill-popper with a fear of aging. The same goes for Chloe Grace Moretz and Michelle Pfeiffer, who are unable to showcase their talents and make their characters memorable.
Despite its shortcomings, the film is enjoyable, quirky and worth watching. While “Dark Shadows” won’t end up as popular as “Alice in Wonderland” and other memorable Burton films, there is something to be said about its effervescence. Like much of his work, Burton’s “Dark Shadows” is not for everyone—but for those who can appreciate the frothy mixture of blood, humor, sexuality and the macabre, it is a devious delight.
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