The newest Tim Burton movie has finally arrived, and though Dark Shadows might not be for everyone, this feels like a welcome return-to-form for the director. Johnny Depp is at the top of his game in one of my favorite performances as Barnabas Collins. I loved this movie!
The film, based on the soap opera of the same name that lasted for over 1,000 episodes, follows vampire Barnabas Collins as he awakens from slumber and finds himself in the year 1972. The witch that cursed him and killed his beloved is still around, and she’s not too happy that Barnabas is back and trying to kickstart the Collins family business once more. What follows is mostly a power struggle between the Collins family and Angie.
While the trailers made Dark Shadows look like much more of a comedy than anything else, thankfully Tim Burton and company deliver a mostly straight and serious tone with bits of melodrama thrown in. The dark humor also reminded me of Beetlejuice, which isn’t too surprising as scribe Seth Grahame-Smith is currently working on the script for its sequel. Capturing the feel of the original series would not be an easy task, and though the series was well before my time, from what I read, the filmmakers did a perfectly adequate job of capturing its tone. There are so many clever 70s jokes and such littered throughout the movie that anyone who grew up in this time period would have a ball spotting all the references. The soundtrack is also a beyond-perfect fit, including Alice Cooper, The Carpenters, The Moody Blues, and many more. Danny Elfman also doesn’t disappoint with the score as usual; he has scored almost every single Tim Burton flick to date.
While Depp is undeniably the lead of this feature, the movie is overall a great ensemble piece and reminded me so very much of The Addams Family, both in tone and in story structure. While the characters are nowhere near as kooky, they still all have their unique little quirks. Johnny Depp is superb as Barnabas, completely immersing himself in the role and disappearing into the character. Michelle Pfeiffer as Elizabeth Collins doesn’t really have much to do until the final act, but she serves as one of the few injections of normalcy in the family. I absolutely loved Helena Bonham Carter as Dr. Hoffman. Her over-the-top drunken character is the perfect fit for Carter’s acting chops. Eva Green was definitely the biggest surprise for me as the witch Angie. She is just downright evil and brought an unparalleled energy to the role. The rest of the supporting cast is plenty of fun too, including Jonny Lee Miller as a really bad parent, Chloe Grace Moretz as an ultra-hippie teen, and Bella Heathcote as Barnabas’ love interest.
The movie starts off very strong in its first half as we get an introduction to how Vampire Barnabas was created, and also a look at the beautiful Collingwood mansion. There are several powerful scenes with plenty of character drama and lots of winding side-plots. I had a feeling the movie would be sort of overridden with too much going on, but Burton and writer Seth Grahame-Smith manage to weave each plot together perfectly. I could definitely see the tinges of soap opera shining through occasionally. I really loved the climax of the movie, which throws so many things at the viewer at once and has some pretty flawless CGI. Thankfully, there is a nice happy ending, but also the promise of a sequel. I would love to see what happens next more than anything; while I don’t think I would seek out the soap opera, I do think that this could be a very good film saga.
Overall, I think that Tim Burton’s love letter to the 60s soap opera Dark Shadows (complete with cameos from the original cast) is an undeniable success. Hopefully it will catch on with audiences this weekend, as its dark humor and melodramatic plot twists may put off a few people. / Rating: A+