I’d never heard of the television show that premiered in 1966 and assumed from the looks of the trailer that Dark Shadows would be a quirky comedy of sorts in the vein of Tim Burton’s other films like Beetlejuice and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Pairing once again with Johnny Depp, Burton’s remake is something mysterious and dark — and not as advertised. Dark Shadows the movie focuses on Barnabas Collins, an 18th century vampire reawakened in the 1970s. While the film is part flashback playing ode to the music of that era, it also uses Barnabas’ character as a sort of lens to that magnifies the wonders of the present future.
Barnabas (Depp) spurns the advances of a lover as he falls into the arms of another. The jealous woman, also a witch, gets her revenge by casting a spell on Barnabas’ love who jumps off a cliff. Barnabas jumps after her hoping to end his life as well only to find he’s been turned into a vampire. Sealed away by the fearful townsfolk, he lies dormant for 200 years until he’s dug up by a construction crew. After feeding on the construction workers, he returns to his old estate which has been overrun by nature and neglected by Barnabas’ descendants who believe they’ve been cursed. Nothing is more important to Barnabas than family, and he’s allowed to join them on condition he tells no one who and what he really is. As Barnabas acclimates himself to living in the future, he sees what lies in the shadows of his own family — the people behind closed doors, locked in their own minds, chained by their love.
Though it seemed to be billed as a comedy, it’s more of a black comedy, though that descriptor doesn’t really seem correct. Dark Shadows is a movie that takes itself very seriously, and there are lighthearted moments, but by movie’s end, there’s no shaking that feeling of emptiness and superficiality. It doesn’t seem to push for laughs, and there’s a lack of sense that the material is all that edgy. The movie starts off full of melodrama, loses itself as it spreads thin introducing but not sticking with its supporting cast, then pushes for a dramatic end that could have used a little more gas in the tank. Depp is surrounded by an ensemble cast of beautiful women and strange men, but no character is as fleshed out as Barnabas whose adjusting to 70s technology and American culture is like watching the world through the eyes of a strange child who’s a bit funny and a little embarrassing. With the talented likes of Michelle Pfeiffer, Chloë Grace Moretz, Eva Green, Helena Bonham Carter, and Jackie Earle Haley — it’s a shame that characters come across as flat and one-dimensional, and that’s why and where the movie really suffers. Characters spend more time telling rather than showing, and it robs the movie’s ending of some desired weight. On the other hand, design is excellent and production values are top notch. That brings about the review cliche — style over substance — which is unfortunate because this movie feels like it has enough passion for the substance. Dark Shadows means well, but it’s sparse, needing less montage and more personality, more moments, and more reveal.