Watching a Tim Burton and Johnny Depp collaboration is like drinking the same old wine you’ve been frequently buying from your local Oddbins for years – slightly full-bodied, strong in colour with eccentric taste but too familiar in structure and lacking oomph that you’ll end up craving for something more daring, something spicier and edgier with a compelling finish. Dark Shadows, the eighth lovechild of the Burton-Depp conception, is that same old concoction that neither impresses nor breaks the mould. In fact this film settles for inane mediocrity, it’s difficult to feel anything for this entry to the pair’s quite eclectic catalogue. Both have achieved varying degrees of success and failure, from the grace notes of Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood and Sweeney Todd to the bumming boredom of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the rather atrocious Alice in the Wonderland. Dark Shadows falls in between, neither gloriously great nor distressingly bad, a campy, if kitschy and clichéd, Gothic melodrama with shades of dark comedy and oddity that’s very much Burtonesque.
As ever, Depp runs away as the show’s one-and-only ace – a twitchy, perplexed performance of such deadpan humour and over-emphasised theatrics as the 200-year old accursed bloodsucker Barnabas Collins. His emergence from his medieval grave and into Collinsport, Maine circa 1972 makes the first half a genuinely funny fish-out-of-water comedy, as the romantic vampire curses at McDonald’s signage as ‘Mephistopheles!’, freaks out at the sight of concrete roads, repelled by lava lamps, outraged at the lack of household servitude and sucking the local hippies dry. Depp is so good in the role that when he’s offscreen, the film verges on sheer catatonia. There are wonderful minor turns courtesy of Michelle Pfeiffer and Helena Bonham-Carter as chilly matriarch Elizabeth Collins and boozy psychiatrist Dr. Hoffman respectively, and devilish turn from Eva Green as the film’s highfalutin villain Angelique Bouchard – but even these cannot glue over the gaping plotholes gnawing from front, left and centre. An obvious caveat – has anyone every noticed that Barbabas Collins has no other siblings? Which basically presents no rational reason how on earth Collins descendants walked the face of the Earth, since her fiancée fell of a cliff. Unless she was pregnant and had magical birthing hips or something. Or unless Barnabas has been fucking a witch.
Which he has! Introducing us to Green’s witchy temptress, whose character’s existence is not only monodimensional but also illogical. A 200-year old witch remains as beautiful and alabaster as Eva Green because of er – magic. Nice touch. That piece of voodoo better be on the market, giving Botox a good run for its money. And there’s also Bella Heathcote’s underwritten role of Victoria Winters, who just happens to be Barnabas’ love interest because – surprise everyone! – she just looks exactly like that dame who fell off the cliff in the prologue. Of course, it’s the same fucking actress! It’s a role so palely written that by the time she opens her mouth to say something to Barnabas, you couldn’t really give a rat’s arse. Plus there’s a climax so overwrought yet underdeveloped you’d be grasping for the nearest pointed stake and plunge it into this film’s cold, unbeating heart.
This is Tim Burton settling for mediocrity, and it’s no compliment. Despite Depp being hilariously cheesy and dead-cert funny, Dark Shadows’ toothless and bloodless execution doesn’t quite achieve a workable balance between Gothic soap-opera and camp comedy. But at least it’s not as bad as Alice in the Wonderland.