Film Review: Dark Shadows

In recent times, many directors and indeed audience members have complained about how trailers are made these days. Many voice concern that some reveal too much of the story. I would suggest you don’t watch the trailer for the film Stranger Than Fiction, as the only thing that is left unrevealed is the final ten minutes or so. The Dark Knight Rises is an example of the perfect trailer; entertaining and reveals absolutely nothing about the plot.

In the case of Tim Burton’s new film Dark Shadows, it’s a very different story. The trailer makes it seem like some fantasy comedy romp, whereas the reality is much different. The funny moments in the film are all packed into the trailer, where they actually seem funnier than in the film. You have to wonder if Tim Burton agrees with his film being marketed in this way, considering how much effort he puts into making it as genre defying as possible.

An adaptation of a gothic soap opera that ran on American TV during the late 60s, Dark Shadows tells the story of Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp), a man living in the 1700s about to settle down with his wife Josette (Bella Heathcote). However, the jealous witch Angelique (Eva Green) who had her advances spurned by Barnabas, condemns him to spend entreaty as a vampire. He’s buried in a coffin for centuries, until workers inadvertently come across him in the year 1972. Barnabas returns to his run-down mansion to find it occupied by an all-star cast family, including Michelle Pfeiffer and Helena Bonham Carter. The family fish business is now under threat from the evil Angelique, who’s still alive, well, and blonde, and she will only leave the family alone if she can have Barnabas for herself.

This all sounds like an Edward Scissorhands fish out of water kind of story, and at many points it is. The main source of the occasional comedy is Barnabas attempting to make sense of the more modern world around him, including his first experience of a performing Karen Carpenter on a TV screen (“reveal yourself, tiny songstress!”). Yet at the same time in injects the occasional moments of horror. Barnabas after all is a vampire and needs to feed, as some hippies find out the hard way. It cuts between moments of comedy, to moments of horror, to moments of something else without even a breath, and instead of it coming across as something fresh and alive, it actually is more of a beautiful mess.

It’s very hard to know what to make of it. Either Burton is making a gallant attempt to bring outsider cinema into the mainstream, or he simply has no idea what he wants the film to be. The strong performances of the main cast members make it a little easier to swallow, most notably Johnny Depp in the lead role, approaching the horror scenes with gusto and making even the slightly unfunny lines seem hilarious (“you may place your beautiful lips upon my posterior and kiss it repeatedly”). Having said that, there are moments you feel are a little too raunchy for a 12A certificate. One rather acrobatic, room demolishing, lizard-tongued sex scene will probably leave younger audience members a little confused. And Depp saying “they haven’t aged a day” while referring to Eva Green’s breasts may be an inappropriate joke too far.

Considering the track record of success Tim Burton has under his belt, it’s hard to believe that he would approach a project like this completely undecided on what he wants it to be. It is therefore more likely he’s attempting to blend the personal with the mainstream, and the offbeat with the downright inappropriate. In that case, he should get plaudits for making one of the strangest mainstream films in years, but for some this may be just a little too demanding.

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About Eric Wood

Eric Wood is 21 years old, from Bury in Greater Manchester, and a graduate of Salford University where he studied Journalism and English Literature. His first novel comes out later in the year, and he begins work directing his first feature length movie in the summer. Eric absolutely adores all forms of writing and loves movies so he’s the ideal film critic. His greatest inspiration for many years has been Michael Crichton, as Crichton has written novels, non-fiction, screenplays, and directed movies. Eric would love to be able to achieve all of those things in my lifetime.
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