May 10, 2012
I admit I am a bit wary about Tim Burton and his quirky dark films, some of which I did not really like too much. However with so much advanced hype about this particular collaboration with Johnny Depp, I felt compelled to watch it. I am happy I did. It was certainly one of the most visually-arresting fantasy-black comedies I have seen, since maybe "Death Becomes Her."
The story of "Dark Shadows" begins in the 18th century when the Collins family crossed the Atlantic to begin their fishing business in Maine. Love-struck maid Angelique (Eva Green) took a fancy to the Collins scion Barnabas (Johnny Depp). Her love remained unrequited though because Barnaby became enamored with sweet Josette (Bella Heathcote). With the traditional fury expected from a woman scorned, Angelique resorted to powerful black magic to kill Josette and turn Barnaby into a vampire. The main story picks up 200 years later in 1972, when Barnabas was released from his grave by a road crew. He not only meets the very dysfunctional current generation of Collins, he also meets Angelique again! It seems that this witch also survived the centuries past, and is now the CEO of the competitor fishing company, Angel Bay. So, will Angelique finally possess Barnabas' love? Or will the pretty doe-eyed governess Victoria (also Heathcote) succeed to win him back, where her look-alike Josette failed 200 years ago?
A lot of the charm came from the cast who played their characters in this dark comedy so tongue-in-cheek, it was delightful. Johnny Depp, playing an undead character from 200 years ago waking up again in 1972, so funny as he encounters recent inventions. Eva Green, I have never seen her attack a role with this much ooomph and passion before. I have seen her before drably playing characters in films like "The Dreamers," "Kingdom of Heaven" and "Casino Royale." This performance as Angie is a high point in her acting career.
I had never seen Bella Heathcote act in anything before, but I understand how Barnabas could be so mesmerized by her beauty. Of course it won't be a Tim Burton without Helena Bonham-Carter, and here she plays a trippy redhead psychiatrist. I do not always like her characters before, but here she is also so funny! The other supporting characters played by Michelle Pfeiffer, Jackie Earl Haley and the kids were not so remarkable. The character twist that involves the daughter Carolyn was so sudden and out-of-the-blue that it does not really contribute much to the improvement of the story.
For me, the best feature of this film is its amazing look. The visual effects, costumes and set design were all top-notch. They set the mood and the period of the story very effectively. And the soundtrack of early 70s songs, beginning with "Nights in White Satin" over the opening credits, wow! The song choices were unexpected, surprising and nostalgic at the same time.
Despite my raves, I know this film will not really appeal to all sectors. I found out during the credits that this was based on a TV show. I had not see this since the series was from the late 60s so I would not know how faithful this film was to its inspiration. I enjoyed it a lot. I found it very well-conceptualized and well-executed, despite the shortcomings of the script. I must admit the derivative script is not really the highlight of this film. It seems it contains various elements which had been bits and pieces of several ghost and vampire films we have seen before. Much to my chagrin, the violent make- out scene and the final conversation on the cliff edge came straight out of the "Twilight" films! However, the film as a whole was just very beautiful to watch, in a Gothic and eerie sort of way. Just don't expect too much, sit back and enjoy it!