thoughts on ‘Dark Shadows’

Let me get a cue from one of my favorite film blogs, The Film Doctor, and make a numerical list of my thoughts on the latest Tim Burton x Johnny Depp collaboration. Just a warning, this piece is more spoiler filled than usual.

1. The biggest flaw of this movie, in my opinion, is the lack of nuance in Eva Green’s love, no, obsession, with Johnny Depp’s character. The main narrative element that drives this entire movie is the witch Angelique’s unrequited infatuation with Barnabas Collins, but Burton didn’t give a reasonable amount of time to let us feel and understand why she was so in love with him in the first place beyond just a physical attraction. Thus, her curse that turned Barnaby into a vampire seemed perfunctory, a device inserted just so the film would have a central conflict.

In the same vein, Depp’s love for Josette lacked any substance, and his grief for her death seemed hollow. This premise, because it was built up so awkwardly, prevented the film to have some sort of deeper emotional power.

2. All this stems from the clunky opening expository sequence. It felt rushed, mechancial — a chore that needed to be done with as quickly as possible. Had they spent more time building on the Angelique-Barnaby-Josette triangle, the film would’ve been more satisfying. I wanted to feel Angelique’s scorn, and Barnaby’s pain at Josette’s suicide. But a sequence that sped through their relationships just didn’t cut it for me.

3. To avoid turning this into a list of complaints, let me say that I loved the look of the movie. The gothic-mod aesthetic worked, with the mostly black and violet palette sprinkled with splashes of the neon colors of the 70s bringing the right balance of darkness and quirk. The juxtaposition of Barnabas and the Collins manor’s old world grandeur with the funkiness of this era is the main source of humor in this movie. This clash worked for a couple of funny visual gags, but it wasn’t enough to make the entire film work.

I remember thinking that there were some scenes that felt like Wes Anderson. Particularly the symmetry of the family when they re-opened the Collins canning factory, and the men in suits that held the coffin when Angelique trapped Barnabas once more towards the end of the film. Maybe it was a combination of the composition of the shots and the fact that this is a movie about a quirky family, two tics that are definitely Andersonesque.

4. Back to complaints. I thought that Burton did a mediocre job at balancing the interactions between the members of the Collins family. There are long stretches where some members do not appear at all, making them seem unimportant to the overarching story. They needed more character in order to resonate more. Even Victoria, the governess who becomes the subject of Barnabas’ affection, was very languidly written. Overall, the movie felt overcrowded and all over the place. And just a minor nitpick, Helena Bonham Carter’s and Eva Green’s American accents slightly distracted me. They tended to over overpronounce their ‘r”s.

5. It goes without saying that the last climactic scene was overwrought and ridiculous. If Burton wanted to turn Chloe Moretz into a werewolf, I wish he dropped more clues instead of just throwing it in there (unexplained hair in the sink! Chloe running away from the full moon! anything!). At least the ghost mother was foretold somewhat. But it goes with saying that the sequence felt like The Exorcist and Death Becomes Her had a wild night that led to the birth of this horrible horrible bastard child.

When Angelique dies and gives her glass heart to Barnabas, it was trademark Burton – awkward, forced sentimentality as denouement . It reminded me of the overly dramatic death at the end of Sweeney Todd. And that’s not really a good thing to be remember for.


    woke up to write a review on dark shadows, only to find your excellent review sitting in my inbox. i demand satisfaction sirrah

  2. Adam Lewis said:

    I had problems with the film until you remember it’s based on a soap opera (which I’ve never seen). Once you treat the third act as a soap opera it becomes quite fun.

  3. I still maintain that from the credits sequence with Victoria on the train while “Nights in White Satin” played in the background, up to the scene with Barnabas and the hippies around the campfire, the movie was mostly successful in walking the fine line between campy parody and nostalgic homage. For a turn, Burton managed to build on and balance the humor and aesthetics inherent in the high concept, but then the sudsy, overwrought plot toppled this delicate house of quirk as the storylines careened into the conclusion. By the way, turns out the CGI heart was Eva Green’s idea. So if Burton deferred to her on this point, could it be possible he could let her get away with more than just that in future collaborations (which are pretty much a given)? 😉

  4. It was surprising that Victoria almost completely disappeared from the story when I thought that she was our entryway into the movie and that we’d look at the world of the Collins family through her eyes.

  5. I thought it would be great , Johnny Depp as a vampire, and he was a fan of the original show. So why did he make so many changes? I expected a better more coherent telling of the “Soap Opera”, which by the way was unlike any soap opera out there. Barnabas was a conflicted vampire, one you could be all for one moment and think why did he do that, the next. All of the characters had background, and were interesting. Most of all Barnabas was a sympathetic character. They changed the whole shows mythos of the story. Silver was not harmful to vampires in this take, and Barnabas could pass as human. He didn’t have long creepy fingers. And his need to feed on so many people at one time, and kill them was just silly.. He didn’t have to kill every time.

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