‘Dark Shadows’ campy, but enjoyable
“Dark Shadows” never aims to be melodramatic. Instead, it takes a road less … dramatic. A modern-day Rip van Winkle story drenched in Gothic vampirism to the point you may forget the movie is set in the ’70s, “Shadows” shows Johnny Depp in rare form, even if everything else falls somewhat flat.
“Shadows,” directed by Tim Burton and starring Depp, his reliable partner in crime, tells the slightly morbid tale of Barnabas Collins, the scion of a wealthy New England family who was cursed with the plight of vampire. (Thankfully, we get a blended look between “Twilight” and Bram Stoker’s creation.) After being inured for nearly two centuries, Barnabas awakes in 1972, both in awe and confusion of the lit-up world around him. (But that doesn’t stop him from feeding, doing so in awesome union with The Carpenters blaring in the background.)
As with most of Burton’s work, the skill is in the detail. The playfulness, even the wit, balance out the nearly unseemly campiness of the enterprise, which is a saving grace, considering the supernatural-themed titular television show on which it’s based became a cult hit after it introduced Barnabas to an American audience. Burton’s version, written by Seth Grahame-Smith (author of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”), combines the show’s origin story and “House of Dark Shadows,” a movie spawned from the show.
In voice-over style, Barnabas gives us the CliffNotes version of the Collins family history, from its start to its less-than-glorious descent. It also introduces us to the movie’s villain de tour, Angelique (an excellent Eva Green of “Casino Royale” fame), a maid who yearns for Barnabas despite that Josette (Bella Heathcote) has stolen his heart. Well, that doesn’t settle well with Angelique, who happens to be a witch, so she uses her black magic, leaving Josette dead and Barnabas fanged and eternally thirsty.
When he returns to the world of the living, ignoring his still heart, it’s instantly noticeable he’s at once different and human. This sense of detachment never really dissipates, even as he returns to his run-down manor, Collinswood, and meets his living descendants, matriarch Elizabeth (a sharp Michelle Pfeiffer); her less-than-honorable brother, Roger (Jonny Lee Miller); her teenage daughter, Carolyn (Chloë Grace Moretz); and Roger’s son, David.
The story, in standard Burton fashion, is nonsensical. It’s strange and a bit confusing. But what counts in his works is the way he tells the incoherent piece, not so much that it doesn’t quite add up. His emphasis is on the imagination, and though it’s not always a hit (think his “Alice in Wonderland”), this time it works. Again, it’s the detail that impresses. (There is a bit of love story involving Barnabas, but no one really cares, not even Barnabas.)
“Dark Shadows” may not be Burton and Depp’s strongest collaboration, but that doesn’t stop it from being humorous and silly. There’s nothing deep about the shadows that permeate this movie (though they may be a bit violent), but that’s OK. It’s Burton’s world, after all, and with Depp at the forefront, you could do worse than get lost in the striking, if unusual, beauty of this Northeastern town and its secrets.
Three ghostly-pale stars out of five.