I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went to see Dark Shadows. Tim Burton sits in a similar mental space for me as Neil Gaiman: Addams Family-esque and grossly overrated.
Both have created some masterpieces — stop what you’re doing now and read Gaiman’s 1642, published by Marvel Comics — but the balance between dreck and delight is starting to tip in an unfavourable direction.
But let’s stop smearing the creator and get to the review: Dark Shadows is the mutant lovebaby of Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice.
Like Edward Scissorhands, Dark Shadows tells the story of a man who is out-of-place in the world, struggling to find an emotional connexion with a world which passed him by. Johnny Depp plays Barnabas Collins, an 18th Century playboy whose largesse is financed by his wealthy parents. He breaks the heart of the obsessive and bewitching Angelique (more on Eva Green in a moment), who proceeds to kill everybody he loves, turn him into a vampire, and have him interred for nearly two centuries. When he awakes, the world he knew (the world in which he was powerful and important) has gone and it’s filled with hilarious new 1970s things like McDonald’s, Volkswagens, and lava lamps (the brand of which I didn’t quite spot).
Like Beetlejuice, Dark Shadows tells the story of a dysfunctional family. The matriarch of the family, played inconsistently by Michelle Pfiefer, is the descendant of Barnabas. She lives in the Collins’ ancestral home with her daughter (Chloe Grace Moretz) whom nobody understands, with her brother (Johnny Lee Miller) whom nobody understands, and with her brother’s son (Gulliver McGrath), whom nobody understands.
By the way, does anybody else think that Gulliver McGrath looks creepily like Benedict Cumberbatch?
Also thrown into the mix are Helena Bonham Carter who plays Helena Bonham Carter and is, apparently, a live in doctor for child-Cumberbatch, and some waif of a girl (Bella Heathcote) who, by wacky happenstance, looks just like a girl Barnabas tried to seduce back in the 1700s.
You might be thinking: ‘Mark, I loved both Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice! Oh my God! If you’re saying that this film is like a spliced version of both, this film must have rocked!’
Alas, dear you, you forgot to read Momaroo (‘real moms, real blogs’) on 18 April 2011 when they asked the age-old question: ‘How do beautiful people have such ugly kids?‘
Dark Shadows is a monster-baby.
The opening act is magnificent. It moves through the set-up swiftly while being simultaneously light-hearted and sentimental. It sets up a cracking pace and, for that sweet moment, I was lulled into a false sense of security.
The wheels soon fall off the carriage and the plot meanders, wanders, and vomits its way through too many characters, too many scenes, and too many events which have zero consequences. Chibi-Cumberbatch is having emotional difficulties after his mother committed suicide. He appears, says his bit, then returns an hour later for the conclusion. 15-year old Moretz is weirdly (and uncomfortably) sexualised, then returns an hour later for the conclusion. Alice Cooper appears as a PR stunt by Barnabas, who is eager to be loved by the villagers. Alice Cooper sings a few songs and the villagers return an hour later as an angry mob.
And so it goes. There is so much going on and too little effort is put into engaging the audience. Barnabas kills a major character and buries them in the sea. No explanation is given for why Barnabas feels the character needs to be killed, given that the ‘crime’ seems ridiculously minor. Events seem like episodes in a television series. Barnabas tries to understand love from a bunch of hippies. Barnabas confronts larval-Cumberbatch’s deadbeat dad. Barnabas hypnotises Count Dooku.
The same thing happens with sex. I know, I’m an enormous prude, but what the hell is with the representation of sex in this film? Barnabas is madly in love with the woman who happens to look like somebody he lost (quite helpfully, she’s not given a personality so we don’t have to worry with that ‘Women who look like other women aren’t actually the same woman’ thing that feminazis keep screaming at me). He asks the 15-year old fanservice for advice on how to seduce her. He asks a bunch of hippies how to seduce her. While pondering how to get the woman he wants, he figures it’s okay to sleep with a few other women, including the one who turned him into a vampire.
Why? What possible point does it serve? All it did was make me think: ‘She might have absolutely no personality and might totally be like as vapid as, but she’s still too good for your manwhorish ways, Barnabas.’
Meanwhile, Eva Green.
I might be biased. I fully admit that I have an unhealthy love of psychotically evil women. I stand by my claim that the Wicked Witch of the West just needed a cuddle. Even despite my ungodly perversions, Eva Green was amazing in this film.
To be honest, she didn’t have a lot to work with. Her whole character is: ‘Woman who because she’s a woman can’t control her emotions because she’s an emotional woman. Pffft, women’. Despite that, Green somehow managed to get some depth out of the character. This isn’t some garden variety obsession that she’s cooked up. This is full on, centuries-long, odi et amo crazy. She’s easily the most interesting character of the film but misses out on proper treatment because every other character needs five minutes to pontificate.
So, in conclusion, the film is rather a mess. It needs fewer characters and more Winona Ryder.