Johnny Depp. Tim Burton. Helena Bonham Carter.
By now, if you’ve been paying attention for the last decade and a half, you should be used to this trio of offbeat performers who like unusual stories with unique characters bearing unconventional attitudes and motives. They don’t care for the mainstream. In fact, they sneer at it. It just smells bad, you see.
The same is true in their latest film based on the cult TV classic of the 1970s, Dark Shadows. Unfortunately for fans of past Burton-Depp Bonham Carter collaborations, this one refuses to take flight. In fact, for most of the movie, it barely moves at all.
The problem is that the focus is on being eccentric for eccentricity’s sake than for telling an actual story about characters and what makes them tick. We have at the center a 200-year-old vampire named Barnabas Collins (Depp) who is the living embodiment of all things Goth. He is also descended from a well-to-do New England family, since, as we all know, vampires do not occur naturally in the Midwest.
In the 1700s, a young Barnabas falls in love with a woman named Josette (Bella Heathcote) who is driven off a cliff by Angelique, a witch in love with Barnabas who wishes to see her competition wiped out. Barnabas is then turned into a vampire by Angelique and buried away for almost 200 years. This is where the thrill of storytelling ends in the film: the prologue. A shame, really.
A couple of centuries later, Barnabas returns to find his family manor and fortune in tremendous disrepair. He finds his family now consists of a cadre of characters who really don’t care much about anything except their own sense of genetic pride. There is Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), Roger (Johnny Lee Miller), their children Carolyn and David (both highly disturbed), and Dr. Julia Hoffman (played by Helena Bonham Carter).
In short, Barnabas is on a mission to restore life into a house for the unliving, and this he manages to do quite well. Depp, as is customary in his Burton projects, plays the part with a deft magical touch, but even that cannot save the film from its overall feeling of inadequacy. Despite the fact that every key ingredient is present for success, there is much amiss in Dark Shadows. It exists in a vacuum of time and space . . . and creativity.