When I heard that Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows was based on a 1970s horror-based soap opera, that was the film I was expecting it to be. When the trailer came out, it looked like the film was taking a campy and comedic route, which I’m sure would have excited people who liked Tim Burton’s early work, such as Beetlejuice. To my pleasant surprise, the film actually turned out to be closer to the former, which I am sure would have disappointed those expecting the latter (though there’s still plenty of campiness in the film).
I actually found that I enjoyed the soap opera/thriller aspects of the film better than the comedic aspects. This tone is set perfectly with what has to be the most subdued opening credits sequence for a Tim Burton film: After a dark prologue for the character of Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp), we shown a scene of the character Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote) riding into the town of Collinsport, Maine and Collinwood Manor. The credits are shown in plain white typeface and accompanied by the song “Nights in White Satin.” It definitely gives a different feel than the typical Tim Burton film with the elaborate Danny Elfman-scored opening (I should note that the film still has an Elfman score, though there are also other songs the the late 60s/early 70s throughout, including an actual appearance by Alice Cooper).
I’m sort of glad that the film is not a full on comedy. Even though, it is nice to chuckle at the “fish out of water” behaviour of Barnabas Collins after he awakes in the year 1972, after a 200 year slumber, I actually like Tim Burton’s darker material better than his comedic and I felt that the film came together when it was dark and dramatic and was sort of goofy when it became comedic.
The person that perfectly balanced both halves of the film was Eva Green as the delightfully twisted witch Angelique Bouchard. Green seems to be having a whole lot of fun playing an absolutely sinister character (love that grin) and I feel that she steals the film. All the best scenes of the film are the ones with her in it.
Of course there are some weak links in the film. Chloë Moretz is starting to lose some of the charm she had a couple years ago, as she enters the angsty teen phase of her career. There is a plot development with her character, which, while it does somewhat fit with the overall theme of the film, it kind of comes out of nowhere and seems very cheesy (and not in a good way). I should also add that both Johnny Lee Miller and Helena Bonham Carter could have been written out entirely from the film without much harm to the plot (shame for Miller, not so much for Carter). Rounding out the cast is Michelle Pfeiffer and Jackie Earle Haley, who are both good enough in their roles. Also, watch for a brief cameo by another Burton regular.
In the end, I will say that I enjoyed Dark Shadows. It’s far from the best film in Tim Burton’s filmography, but I thought it was a competent film that allowed Burton to both try new things (I quite liked that opening credits sequence) and include many of dark and campy elements he is known for (the climax is excellent).