Sunday, 20 May 2012

Movie Review: Dark Shadows

First of all I should state that this isn't the movie you thought it was from the trailers. The campy vampire romp shown in the previews is not representative of the true film. 'Dark Shadows' is often humourous and quite dark making it very much an adult movie despite the family friendly atmosphere its trailer exudes, several kids were at the screening I saw (unfortunately) and I can't imagine that the frequent sexual undertones or metaphors added to their enjoyment. I however loved the film's twisted humour and interesting, if incredibly silly plot.

Barnabas Collins is a member of a wealthy British family who come from their home in Liverpool to expand their empire in the New World, in Maine. As he grows up Barnabas unknowingly breaks the heart of a witch who exacts her revenge by murdering his loved ones and transforming him into a creature of the night, a vampire, and imprisoning him in a coffin to endure his torment forever. 200 years later Barnabas' coffin is exhumed by construction workers digging the earth. Upon returning to his family home Barnabas discovers that he has been dormant for 2 centuries and his family have fallen upon hard times. Barnabas vows to resurrect his family's reputation and dwindling business whilst coming to terms with the new world he finds himself in. Meanwhile the witch who imprisoned Barnabas still resides in the town, and once she finds out the vampire has been freed she sets about reuniting with him, or if he refuses, destroying him.

There's a wonderfully created 1972 in 'Dark Shadows', everything from the music to the cars, to the clothes of the characters. I really found the time setting perfect for Barnabas to resume his life, the 70s had some of the best music and recognisable fashions and decors in recent history and I really got the feeling throughout that Burton himself is a fan of this particular decade. It has to be said how well he has shot the film, from the eeriness of the opening train journey accompanied by "Nights in White Satin" by The Moody Blues to the concert towards the end of the film, everything seemed to be executed with such care and passion for the 70s that it brings the audience into the setting in a far more natural and fluid way than the majority of period films.

Barnabas grapples with the horrors of the beanbag chair.

Let's not bullshit here. The reason to see this film is Depp, without his presence I can't see how this zany tale even have been put into production. So it's just as well then that he's on great form here as Barnabas Collins. I have a real respect for Depp as an actor, he seems determined to reinvent himself with every role and he's certainly not been typecast, think about it, his last 3 roles before this have been: an alcoholic writer in 'The Rum Diary', the demented Captain Jack Sparrow in 'Pirates of the Caribbean' and as a lonely chameleon in 'Rango'. You would struggle to find such variety in an actor's roles and variety is what Depp excels at, he becomes his characters so fully that it's hard to believe the solemn Edward Scissorhands and the always optimistic Ed Wood are portrayed by the same actor. Truthfully the role of Barnabas was never going to challenge Depp, for all his torment and issues he's actually a rather shallow character when it comes to his motivations. Nevertheless Depp becomes the character and enriches Barnabas with a very defined personality full of quirks.

Barnabas is a very interesting character and seems perfectly suited for Depp. Being from the 18th century the vampire finds the 1970s to be completely foreign, it is here where the majority of the film's comedy stems from. Barnabas' time displacement never failed to be hilarious in my eyes, perhaps it was the earnestness of Depp’s performance as purely serious in such silly situations that I found so appealing but the idea of an 18th century aristocrat discovering things such as television or the board game operation is just comedy gold. It is indeed Barnabas' own gentlemanly etiquette that seems so dated in the 1970s that provides a decent amount of comedy within his interactions with others. 'Dark Shadows' as I stated before is not a complete farce though, it has a dark story with tragic events that seem tailor-made for Burton direction, his Gothic take elevates the film to a surreal and supernatural story in an already very familiar setting.

Be honest, you're here for him.

The rest of the cast is well assembled, Michelle Pfeiffer does an excellent job as Barnabas' descendant and head of the Collins household Elizabeth Collins, I'm glad that Elizabeth is portrayed by an actress as talented as Pfeiffer as if it hadn't been for her I don't think I would have liked the character at all, she seems deceitful and somewhat stuck-up but Pfeiffer admirably gives reality and depth to the character. The remaining supporting characters do well to provide Depp with interesting and colourful characters to interact, there are a few great actors who play a smaller role than I was used to seeing them in. Jonny Lee Miller for example portrays the brother of Elizabeth, the is nothing more than a seedy deadbeat and has all the substance and depth of a ham sandwich, when he disappears halfway through the film it was most likely due to lack of material for him rather than an important story decision. As is irritatingly common in Tim Burton films, Helena Bonham Carter features in a good role, she delivers an adequate performance that fits the character I suppose but her continued presence in Burton's films has most likely corrupted my appreciation of her as an actress, I seem to always find her acting obnoxious and half-hearted, she has done nothing in this picture to change my opinion. Chloe Moretz, who I honestly think is talented actress who has proved as much in the past, lets herself down here as she overacts her way through her role as self-centered teenager Carolyn. It was great to see appearances, however brief, by the great Jackie Earle Haley and the legendary Christopher Lee who appears in a cameo as a wise old sea captain. There is another cameo towards the end of the film (which I won't ruin), that was fantastic to see, and a real treat for anyone who is a fan of this person.

The villain of the piece, Angelique, is portrayed by the gifted (and extremely attractive) Eva Green whom some may recognise from Daniel Craig's inaugural Bond film 'Casino Royale'. The character of Angelique is similar to Barnabas in that she has little depth but also like Barnabas her actor really brings to life her emotions and motivations. With a mysterious backstory Angelique emerges as the antagonist of the picture within the first 5 minutes, her evil intentions created by having her heart broken by Barnabas whose crime was not reciprocating her pronouncement of love. In the modern era Angelique has spent centuries building her empire in order to destroy the Collins', during this time her original British accent has evolved into the dialect of a Maine native, here is where I found some issue. Green's attempt at the American accent is not great, it frequently sounds forced and unnatural, and her voice clumsily fluctuates between youthful and feminine to artificially deep and "spooky". Whilst this can be seen as a small complaint I find that this fault in particular takes me completely out of the experience of the film and faults an otherwise very convincing performance from Green.

Eva Green as Angelique the Witch.

I didn't have very high hopes for 'Dark Shadows', initially passing it off as just another kooky Tim burton affair but seeing it has reformed my opinion and if given the chance it deserves 'Dark Shadows' has an interesting and fun story to tell. If you're a fan of Burton and his unique genre of films you'll thoroughly enjoy this flick that harkens back to his earlier and more imaginative works. 

1 comment:

  1. nice review. look forward to more - mandrew