A relatively fun film with a swinging tone and a sloppy mess of a plot.
May 13, 2012 3:33 pmV. M. Stone
Based on the 1966 television show, Dark Shadows, directed by Tim Burton, tells the story of vampire Barnabus Collins (Johnny Depp) who, after being imprisoned by spurned witch Angelique (Eva Green) for centuries, emerges in the year 1972 to help his descendants revive the family business and take back the town of Collinsport from Angelique.
Dark Shadows, despite what its pathetic excuse for a trailer would tell you, is actually remarkably funny. Cleverly written and generally well-acted, the movie makes you feel – unlike the rest of Burton's recent films – as if everyone involved is enjoying themselves, and their enthusiasm is contagious. Depp is deliciously hammy as the over-serious Barnabus, and the film does not hesitate to make his melodramatic nature the butt of as many jokes as possible. Chloë Moretz is also entertaining as the snide wannabe-hippie Carolyn. But the prize goes to Green, who makes for a wonderful villainess. Cunning, nasty, seductive, and crazier than a rat in a tutu, her Angelique is sometimes amusing, sometimes frightening, and always a delight to watch. Throw in an interesting visual style (like all Burton films, Dark Shadows is very pretty), a handful of surprisingly original fish-out-of-time-period gags, and an awesome 70's soundtrack, and this makes for a great movie – right?
Wrong. Very, very wrong. Dark Shadows is the cinematic equivalent of pizza-flavored ice cream: The ingredients are good on their own, but together leave you feeling puzzled, repulsed, and slightly queasy. I could forgive Michelle Pfeiffer's wooden performance as Collins matriarch Elizabeth. I could forget the nine million times the movie sledgehammered its “family is important” moral through my skull. I could even ignore how they gave Johnny Depp the leftover makeup from Memoirs of a Geisha. But I can't enjoy a movie that doesn't know what it's doing, and Dark Shadows is one such movie. The film's tone is more confused than a pigeon with head trauma, switching from horror to comedy to children's fantasy to adult drama fast enough to give you whiplash. These random emotional shifts wind up crushing both the film's comedic value and its dark moments. Emotionally-charged moments are poisoned by random, halfhearted jokes, and hilarious scenes of Barnabus trying to learn social skills from stoned hippies turn pointlessly morbid when he murders them all for no reason. It's sort of sad to see, really. You can tell that Burton, for the first time in years, is desperately trying to make a good, dark movie, but is being yanked back by some executive chiding “Now, now, you're taking yourself seriously again, and the kids don't like that.” A tip, Hollywood: Being aware of your good movie's flaws is funny. Slapping together a bad movie and going “I meant to do that” is not.
The film's awkward pacing doesn't help matters. Most of the movie creeps along slower than a drunk snail, filling the first half with dull montages of the Collins family standing around looking at factories or walking along the shore, before randomly throwing so much action at you in the last fifteen minutes that you half expect the screen to explode. Supposedly important characters are given only a handful of lines, and we are asked to swoon over the relationships of people who have shared less than ten minutes of screen time together. The ending is downright laughable, tying up nonexistent plot threads and answering questions that were never asked. It's like a really bad episode of Scooby Doo, smugly solving a mystery that the audience was never told about in the first place. Granted, this often happens when you try to fit seven years of soap opera twists into a feature-length movie, but with a two hour runtime you'd expect them to drop a few hints.
While the witty writing and talented cast make Dark Shadows a relatively fun film, the swinging tone and sloppy mess of a plot do not make it worthy of its ticket price. Stick it in your Netflix queue when you can, but until then keep this movie in the shadows and safely out of your sight.
|FIND YOUR GEEK RATING||3.0|