In contrast to many of his other films, Tim Burton's Dark Shadows fails to strike a desirable balance between comedy and horror. The film, based on a soap opera that aired from 1966 to 1971, is equipped with great sets and costumes, but falters when it comes to tone, plot and focus. In the end, you're left asking yourself - what was the point?
The protagonist, Barnabus Collins (Johnny Depp) is a vampire who, after being locked away in a coffin for almost 200 years (196, to be precise), reemerges in 1972. Barnabus seeks to restore his family's name to its former glory by helping his descendents turn around their struggling canned fishing business. Along the way, he falls for the resident governess, whom he knows as Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote) and who bears a striking resemblance to Josette du Pres (also played by Heathcote), the woman he was in love with two centuries ago. But, his intentions to revive the family business and win Victoria's heart are put in jeopardy by his old nemesis Angelique Bouchard, now Angie (Eva Green). Angelique is a witch, with whom Barnabus had a physical relationship, but rejected, when it came to the question of love (due to her working class status). It is she, who doomed Barnabus to join the ranks of the undead and then convinced the townspeople to bury him alive. Feminists, prepare to cringe at Angelique's character; even after two centuries, during which she has amassed a veritable business empire, she can't move past her feelings for one man, who doesn't see any value in her, beyond her corporeal appeal.
Right from the outset, the humour is hit-and-miss; unfortunately, more of the latter. For the most part, the jokes lack originality. They are also sometimes predictable. And, because humour is featured so prominently, its falling flat really affects the overall experience of the film. The lack of an apparent focus also affects the pacing. Several scenes in the first half seem too drawn out.
The original series was known to be quite melodramatic, and Barnabus and Angelique's characters seem to pay homage to this aspect of the television show. Depp does a decent job with the hammed up lines he has. There's an almost postmodern take on his characterisation of Barnabus - he regularly seems to wink at the audience, which at least, makes things more interesting and layered. Green, however, seems to overact in every scene, sans such tongue-and-cheek irony. Perhaps this was a deliberate decision, but I'm not sure it does much good. In contrast, but with the same bland result, Heathcote's delivery, especially as Victoria, is excruciatingly monotone. Michelle Pfiefer effectively plays Elizabeth Collins Stoddard as a rather stoic, sensible matriarch figure.is great as the constantly hungover Dr. Julia Hoffman; I would've liked to see more of her. also deserves a mention. He doesn't have much to work with - he plays a cliched drunken, obtuse but loyal servant in the Collins household, who's frequently the butt of the joke, but his performance is spot on. Haley is a remarkably versatile actor (think of his performance in Little Children, in contrast to this).
It's not all bad in the land of Dark Shadows. The film does have some genuinely funny moments, the music is to be commended (though, decide for yourself if the surrealinsert works or doesn't), and typical of all Burton features, the mise-en-scene is magical; the visuals, beautiful; and the choice of colour, so precise, it's a joy to observe. The filmmaker has a gift for creating strange self-contained little worlds, replete with an array of eccentric characters. The component that has gone amiss in this feature, is Burton's usually excellent handling of humour and irony. You won't find the dark welcome wit of a Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street - or the substance, for that matter, of an Edward Scissorhands - in Dark Shadows, but a pictorial appeal is still there.