Wednesday 9 May 2012

Dark Shadows review

Dark Shadows (12A/PG-13, 113 mins)
Director: Tim Burton
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Dark Shadows was a daytime soap opera that ran on American television from 1966 to 1971. But it was a soap with a difference, one populated with vampires, werewolves and witches, that achieved something of a cult status.

Now Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton reteam for what feels like the 257th time to bring it to the big screen, and the hope was it wouldn’t be just another in their conveyor belt of kooky fantasies that favour lavish production design and silly accents over a well told story.

While it’s undeniable that Burton has entered the most financially lucrative period of his career (Alice in Wonderland made a stupid amount of money), it’s coincided with him churning out his most vacuous and incoherent films. And, sadly, Dark Shadows is no different.

In a prologue set in 18th century Maine that recalls Coppola’s Dracula, we learn that the Collins family moved from England to America where they became rich through their fishing empire, and built the town of Collinsport. But when Barnabas Collins (Depp) spurned the advances of a witch named Angelique (Eva Green), she cursed him to be a vampire and buried him alive.

Now, in 1972, the Collins family still live in their sprawling mansion, Collinwood, Michelle Pfeiffer and Helena Bonham Carter among them, but their stock has dwindled because Angelique now runs the fishing industry in Collinsport. Meanwhile Barnabas is accidentally exhumed, and returns to Collinwood vowing to restore the family fortune.

As has so often been the case with Burton recently, glorious production values and a moderately spooky atmosphere can only take you so far. The makeup is splendid, and Depp does one of his patented English voices, his olde speake and confusion at modern ways the only source of amusement.

But everything else about Dark Shadows is nothing like funny enough, just half-baked ideas and an arid space in between the fish-out-of-time gags, and it’s an absolute dog’s dinner when it comes to coherence and consistency. None of the sorely underdeveloped characters serve the story, flitting in and out at random, Pfeiffer in particular disappearing for long stretches only to turn up when required.

It’s quite simply a badly directed mess, with flat, lazy performances, and reversals and relationships that are pulled from out of nowhere. There’s no threat, no build up of tensions, and Angelique is the only person in the entire debacle with clear motivations and goals. At some point everyone involved just threw up their hands and decided they’d just make a gothic sketch show instead. Except, you know, without the laughs.

Absent of narrative or memorable characters, it’s a series of barely connected skits with no plot to speak of, made without a jot of care or attention, but with an eye only on how the promise of Depp and some supernatural chuckles can grab enough unsuspecting punters in before audiences start to smell what they're being shovelled. The ropey special effects are just the final nail in the coffin.

If you want to see what Depp and Burton are really capable of together, revisit Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood. This is simply not good enough.

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