Friday, October 11, 2013

Dark Shadows

Directed Tim Burton.
2012. Rated PG-13, 113 minutes.
Johnny Depp
Michelle Pfeiffer
Eva Green
Helena Bonham Carter
Bella Heathcote
Chloë Grace Moretz
Jackie Earle Haley
Jonny Lee Miller
Christopher Lee
Alice Cooper

In 1972, the Collinses live in a gigantic secluded mansion in Maine that their ancestors built over 200 years earlier. Once extremely wealthy, they now barely manage to pay the bills since the family business isn’t doing so well. Luckily for them, they’re about to get some help. Thought long dead since he lived in the house when it was first built, Barnabus Collins (Depp) rises from his grave. Having been turned into a vampire by Angelique Bouchard (Green), a jilted witch, he has a score to settle. For you young whipper-snappers, this is based on the late 60s/early 70s soap opera of the same name.

We proceed with the normal jokes that follow people reemerging in a time much different than their own. Some are funny, some are not. More consistently humorous, but not overwhelmingly so, is Michelle Pfeiffer’s sarcasm and the (sorta) functional drunkenness of Burton regular Helena Bonham Carter. Both women are superb as is Eva Green in all her cackling witch glory. Chloë Grace Moretz gives a performance that comes across as bizarre. However, I don’t blame her as much as I do the screenplay which doesn’t properly flesh out her character. The one actor I do blame for their lackluster work is the star, Johnny Depp. This is hard for me because I’m pretty much a Depp apologist, but he doesn’t seem to have his heart in this one.

Still, our hero isn't the most noticeable problem with Dark Shadows. More of an issue is how insecure director Tim Burton is in his storytelling. The movie never seems sure of what it wants to be. It takes turns at parody (including of self), family drama, and straight forward horror without the proper meshing of the genres. The seams are clearly visible. As a result, we feel like we’re switching back and forth between several different movies involving the same characters. Any of them could be good but none are allowed to gather enough steam. We never get into the right frame of mind to enjoy it because as soon as we start to settle in there’s an abrupt change in tone and we have to start all over. Other problems include prematurely discarding subplots, especially those of the children, and a werewolf inexplicably popping up out of nowhere.

The magic of the Depp/Burton connection seems to be waning. As mentioned, Depp’s performance is somewhat less than thrilling and the typically goth-chic visuals of Tim Burton feel peculiarly restrained and his narrative is all over the map. Even the star in his trademark white face paint and funny hairdo is now cliché. The last truly excellent effort produced by the pair is 2007’s morbid musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. I like their following picture, 2010’s Alice in Wonderland, but that’s a polarizing film. This seems to be likewise.

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