out of Five
Running time: 114
Dark Shadows has a strong opening and a decent first half, but it loses its way badly before the end and becomes increasingly flawed and frustrating in equal measure, though it's still worth watching thanks to its striking production design and enjoyable performances from Depp and Green.
What's it all about?
Directed by Tim Burton, Dark Shadows is based on the cult 1960s TV series and stars Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins, a 200 year old vampire who was cursed and imprisoned by a witch (Eva Green as Angelique) in the late 1700s after he spurned her advances. When workmen accidentally release Barnabas in 1972, he returns to his ancestral mansion only to discover that the family fortunes have dissipated and the huge house is populated by his dysfunctional descendants - matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), her rebellious teenage daughter Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz), lonely young boy David (Gulliver McGrath) and his ne'er-do-well, widowed, disinterested father Roger (Jonny Lee Miller) – and various employees, including alcoholic Doctor Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) and newly appointed nanny Victoria (Bella Heathcote), who just happens to be the spitting image of Barnabas' lost love Josette.
When Barnabas discovers that Angelique is still alive and has stolen the town's fishing business that once belonged to his family, he vows revenge upon her, but the witch is still obsessed with Barnabas and isn't about to go down without a fight.
This is Depp's eighth collaboration with Burton (and his fifth in a row) and Barnabas is a worthy addition to his gallery of oddball characters, delivering delicious deadpan dialogue and generating strong chemistry with both Green and Pfeiffer. Similarly, Green (wearing a variety of eye-popping, cleavage-friendly costumes) is perfectly cast as Angelique (her wild staring eyes working overtime) and there's strong support from Pfeiffer and an even-more-pouty-than-usual Moretz.
The script has a lot of fun with Barnabas' bemusement at his brave new world (e.g. ripping open a TV shouting “Reveal yourself, tiny songstress!”) and there are several decent gags, at least in the first half. On top of that, Rick Heinrichs' production design is extremely impressive and Burton gets good mileage out of a rocking 70s soundtrack as well as an effective Danny Elfman score.
Unfortunately, after an enjoyable first half, the script rapidly loses its way in the middle section and becomes increasingly flawed and frustrating, encompassing irritating, poorly conceived twists, extended gags that don't work (including what amounts to a mini Alice Cooper concert) and a disappointing finale. In addition, important characters are often forgotten about and left off-screen for too long and none of the promising plot strands actually go anywhere, while Depp has more chemistry with Pfeiffer than with Heathcote, which rather scuppers the central romance.
Despite its numerous flaws, Depp and Green ensure that Dark Shadows remains watchable throughout, though it's never quite as much fun as it should have been.