Tim Burton always brings the same cake to the party. Sure, they’re delicious, and yes, they are beautifully presented but if you scrape off the icing and ignore the different plates they’re presented on, underneath it all is just flour, gothic makeup and Johnny Depp.
Dark Shadows is Burton’s latest film, and is based upon the 1960s television series of the same name. Depp plays Barnabas Collins, a man cursed by Angelique, a house maid and secret witch (Eva Green) when he spurns her love but not her lust. She kills his parents and sends his fiancé Josette (Bella Heathcote) off a cliff; immediately sending Barnabus into both a metaphorical and literal downward spiral. Still furious, the witch doesn’t allow him to die and instead inflicts upon him the worst punishment imaginable: turning him into a vampire. When after all this he still doesn’t love her, she has him buried alive.
The bulk of the film takes place in 1972, one year after the television series ended. Essentially the plot has Barnabus reuniting with his descendents and attempting to restore his family’s fortune and standing in the town of Collinswood. He also spends some quality time devouring random people and exposing secret passages.
Despite what you might expect, Dark Shadows is not that bad. Depp delivers some killer one-liners, and as an added bonus, no one sparkles in the sunlight. However, as a film it has two major flaws.
Depp originally purchased the rights to the series, and took them to Burton who he knew was a long-time fan. Trying to make a film based off a television series provides you with far too much subject matter, and if you’re emotionally attached to the original, you’re just further shooting yourself in the foot. His fondness for the series seems to have been his undoing. He has tried too hard to incorporate too much, and as a result has produced a weirdly-timed and jarring film.
I honestly struggle to remember what happened in the middle other than some jokes about the ‘70s and some era-appropriate music. Then, all of a sudden someone dragged out the writing cannons; chandeliers dropped and plot devices were fired out faster than you could shout “CONFUSION!”
The second problem is the overt Burtonliness of the whole thing. People love him for his aesthetic; unfortunately that aesthetic can only be pushed so far. He’s carved himself a niche, one which with every new film increasingly looks like it will be his artistic grave. His sets are all eerily similar; the Collins house is the Edward Scissorhands mansion minus some topiary and biscuit machinery.
Not only does he essentially cast his wife and Johnny Depp in all of his projects, he seemingly has an actress “look” which he just re-casts every few years. Dark Shadows’ female leads are essentially Sleepy Hollow’s leads. The love interest is a willowy blonde – Bella Heathcote instead of Christina Ricci, and lady of the house Michelle Pfeiffer speaks in the same voice Miranda Richardson used when she played Lady Van Tassel. I had to hit up Wikipedia just to make sure that actress who played Angelique wasn’t the same as Ichabod Crane’s ill-fated mother.
Dark Shadows was ok. It might even have done really well if it hadn’t come at the end of a long line of essentially identical-looking films.
I’m never going to stop going to Burton films. They might not be original anymore, but they’re always fun. Except for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which can go rot in celluloid hell. His uniqueness has turned to routine, so if you’re looking for avant garde, be gone. But, if you’re looking for a quirky film shot through what looks like an Instragram lens – welcome home; we’ve left your room just the way it was.