That 70s Freak Show
by Jansen Musico
Dark Shadows (2012)
D: Tim Burton
S: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green
There is a love triangle in Dark Shadows, much more palpable and believable than the one present in the story. It’s the threesome of Depp, Burton, and Bonham-Carter, bound by their mutual admiration for one another. It was only a matter of time before these three came together for the nth time. Why wouldn’t they? The combination of the three has served up several wins in Hollywood. This time, though, the seasoned winners find themselves on the losing side.
We’ve all gotten used to Depp and Bonham Carter acting in Burton films, that anything they do, no matter how ridiculously theatrical or impossible the gestures, no longer comes as a surprise. They are brilliant, and it’s expected. In Dark Shadows, the two deliver the same flare they have always had in the form of characters resuscitated from the corpse of a 60s TV show.
Depp plays Barnabas Collins, a man cursed to live the life of a vampire by a witch whose love he took for granted. The witch named Angelique Bouchard, played effortlessly by Eva Green, is seemingly immortal. She makes it her life’s mission to make Barnabas and the rest of the Collins clan suffer. The film follows Barnabas as he navigates through life in the 70s and tries desperately to restore the grandeur of his family name.
Being a dark comedy, the film has many moments of violence. Death becomes commonplace and the Collins family’s despair becomes a heavy dark shadow that makes the film drab and dull. Its only solace are a few select moments of color: flushed faces of Barnabas and Angie after minutes of raging sex, an aroused Dr. Hoffman (Bonham-Carter) after discovering Barnabas’s secret, and an enraged Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer) seeing an intruder in her house.
The film’s supporting cast could have given the film more life. Michelle Pfeiffer still commands the screen. Jackie Earle Haley as groundskeeper Willie is funny. Even the kids played by Chloë Grace Moretz and Gulliver McGrath have potential. All of them are capable, yet all of them are wasted, forced to play characters with underdeveloped backstories. The climax would have been more powerful and less laughable if Burton had devoted more time in fleshing out his hollow characters than giving Depp the brunt of the screen time.
With Dark Shadows, the threesome failed to impress, suggesting perhaps that their formula is in much need of rethinking.