Monday, 22 October 2012

Review: Dark Shadows

Year: 2012
Director: Tim Burton
Screenplay: Seth Grahame-Smith
Starring: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Helena Bonham Carter, Chole Moretz, Jackie Hearle Haley

Synopsis is here

I never warmed too much to Tim Burton's work before 2001. However, after his "re-imagining" of 2001's Planet of the Apes, my already below average stock of the director plummeted. My thoughts on the likes of Edward Scissorhands (1993) or Sleepy Hollow (1999) may go against the grain of popular conscious, however, while I've never been moved by any of his movies, I could always respect the flashes of creativity that were placed within them.

However, since the turn of the millennium, I've found little of his input  in any way satisfying. The much discussed (and hated) ending of Apes is the most lively aspect of that blockbuster. The drudging rehashes of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland suffer from dubious characterisations and awkward turns from one Johnny Depp. The latter also happens to be one of the ugliest Burton movies of his canon. Something that most of his films can usually rely on.

Reliability also seems to be missing from his satirical soap opera Dark Shadows. The go to fundamentals that Burton usually reaches for, once again appear to be failing as we get yet another cursorily unfunny, uninviting Johnny Depp performance, up against a Gothic backdrop that seemingly looks mostly CGI. It doesn't suffer from the nasty, casino floored, colour palette that littered Alice in Wonderland but still has a detached feel that sorely distracts from the film. As a film that pokes fun at a creaky, gothic soap opera, is it just myself that feels cheated that Burton doesn't go the way of the original crossroads?

The tone of the movie is never found with the screenplay only going far enough with the filmsy soap opera structure. Dark Shadows goes all over the place, never establishing itself properly as a fish out of water comedy, a light take on the melodramatic nature of soaps or a gothic parody. It straddles over all these aspects and hurts it's privates by stretching too hard. The decent, more risqué jokes are too hard to come by. We don't spend the right amount of time with characters or their before we're subjected to silly revelation after revelation. It lacks the subversive nature of Twin Peaks and none of the scenes reach a decent peak. A shame, as the OTT Epilogue looked to be a solid starting point.

It's not as if the elements aren't all in place. The jaded, drunk doctor, the reluctant patriarch, the angsty pre-pubescent with a hormone imbalance. Everything is ripe for the plucking. Yet Burton never takes the bait. The film's comedy never reaches above sitcom level, only Eva Green and  Michelle Pfeiffer chew at the rich scenery and it's difficult not to think of other features that use the sum of its parts better. Even the likes of Death becomes Her drinks deeper from the forthy camp cup.

Dark Shadows feels very lazy in a post-twilight world. With the likes of True Blood, The Vampire Diaries and like all chomping at the supernatural soap bit. Dark Shadows does little to impress from either a melodramatic, Gothic or kitsch viewpoint. Burton does well to remind us that he created the likes Beetlejuice (Moretz = Ryder). However Dark Shadows is too clumsy in it's execution to provide any lingering effects. Much like Barnabas himself, the film is dead on arrival.