Monday, September 17, 2012

Review: Dark Shadows (2012)

Love or hate him, the one thing you can say about Johnny Depp is that he makes interesting choices.  The lineup of characters that he has played is a veritable rogues gallery of the eccentric.  Sure, there is the occasional John Dillinger (Public Enemies) or George Jung (Blow), but more often than not Depp has been covered in wigs, makeup, and outlandish costumes – especially when Tim Burton is involved.  There have been some signature performances along the way, but there have also been some incredible misses.  Before ever seeing a single frame of Dark Shadows, I was prepared to label it the latter.  Now having seen the movie, I am not exactly sure under which category this performance belongs, but this is oddly appropriate since few have been able to properly grasp the scope of the movie itself.

Dark Shadows (2012) - based on a fantasy horror TV show from the late 1960’s – is the story of Barnabas Collins, a cursed vampire who returns from a 200 year absence to find his family’s fortunes in decay.  While vowing to return the Collins family to prominence, he must also deal with the haunting loss of his former love, with his unquenchable thirst for blood, and with the witch who has cursed his family.

If you can believe it, this movie was originally marketed as a comedy.  This means that either the film was wrongly marketed or poorly executed.  Sure there are a few chuckles that come from the fish-out-of-water set up of having a vampire wake up two centuries later smack dab in the middle of 1970’s Maine, but that novelty fades quickly along with any sense of humor.  What’s left is a jambalaya comprised of soap opera caliber familial melodrama, cheesy Goth, and 1970’s d├ęcor – not necessarily the most appetizing cinematic combination.  I did not however hate this movie like I thought I would, but I was left wondering why anyone would make this movie and why anyone would go out of their way to see it.  While it’s not terribly executed, there’s no purpose or appeal to this project – hence the relatively modest $238M worldwide gross (or roughly a $35M loss for WB).

In the film, Tim Burton’s direction is surprisingly subdued by his usual outlandish standards and I actually like the way he and his creative team capture Maine.  This goes ditto for the cast.  Johnny Depp knows how to play weird and eccentric and Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, and Jackie Earle Haley absolutely exude the decay that has taken hold of the Collins estate.  Likewise, Bella Heathcote does a nice job as the pretty but detached Victoria Winters.  Sadly, disappointment with the cast came from two very unlikely sources in Eva Green and Chloe Grace Moretz.  Both have shown themselves extremely well in the past in Casino Royale and (500) Days of Summer respectively, but their performances in this film seemed off kilter and a little too camp for my taste.

So then what this adds up to is a decently directed and decently acted movie with a clunky premise and an awkward plot, which just kind of makes all the effort seem for naught.  While Dark Shadows is not really a terrible movie, I can’t find any one good reason to recommend that you see it.  This is a bottom-of-the-Netflix-queue kind of movie that you will probably never get around to seeing because the continuous stream of new releases hitting the market.  However, should you find yourself sitting in front of the television on a Wednesday night with the movie onscreen, you won’t completely loath yourself for watching it.  For all you Johnny Depp fans, here is hoping he finds better luck in his next feature film as Tonto in The Lone Ranger.  I, for one, am not optimistic.

Standout Performance: Bella Heathcote.  It is a fine line to playing a slightly detached   character from as such a performance can easily be construed as cold and robotic.  Heathcote pulls it off well and maintains a strong semblance of likability.


  1. Well it’s definitely not surprising to hear reviews like this surrounding Dark Shadows. I had a feeling it wasn’t going to be the best, so that’s why I decided to skip it in theaters. As a Johnny Depp fan though, I still feel like I need to watch it. I saw it will be available to rent with my Blockbuster @Home package next week, so I just went ahead and added it to the top of my queue anyways. I’m still rather intrigued with what the story has to offer, especially since some of my coworkers at DISH seemed to like it when they went to see it in theaters. That’s surprising to hear it wasn’t so much a comedy either, because you’re right, everything I saw about it made it seem like the audience would be laughing most of the time. Thanks for the review and the heads up of what to expect! :)