“Dark Shadows” Movie Review

     In this the 8th collaboration between actor Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton, “Dark Shadows” is a reinvention of the campy late 60s television show about a vampire who awakens nearly 200 years after being buried alive by the very witch who cursed him in the first place.  I won’t say Depp and Burton have made a bad film together yet, but some have been hit and miss and I’ve certainly had my preferences.  Fortunately, “Dark Shadows” has Burton going back to what has made many of his films, such as “Sleepy Hollow” and “Edward Scissorhands”, so unique and original.  The setting and the atmosphere, along with some truly devilish characters, are the highlights of “Dark Shadows” and make it a perfect fit for movie going in this early Summer season.

     The original series is a bit before my time, so I don’t have the perspective of comparing the show to the film; however, a brief explanation of the plot might give you an idea of what your getting into.  Barnabas Collins (Depp) has built an empire of wealth  from the family fishing business in the late 1760s.  The town in Maine where the Collins family settled two decades earlier is named Collinsport and the sprawling mansion the family resides in, the Collinwood Manor, is the fishing town’s most notable landmark.  When Barnabas’ mother and father are killed in an accident, he becomes obsessed with  black magic and ends up breaking the heart of one of the family’s employees, Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green).  This turns out to be a big mistake since Angelique is a jealous witch who then turns Barnabas into a vampire and buries him alive.

     It’s now 1972 and the Collins family business and manor have dwindled significantly.  A construction crew discovers the coffin containing Barnabas and he is finally set free, intent on reclaiming his home, his family, and his fortune.  When he arrives at the Collinwood Manor, he finds the home in shambles, occupied by the latest of the Collins family.  The head of the house is Elizabeth Collins (Michelle Pfeiffer, Where have you been?), along with her daughter Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz), her brother Roger (Jonny Miller), his son David (Gulliver McGrath), and the family live in shrink, Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter).  In addition, a new nanny has been hired to look after David and Carolyn named Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote), who has a striking resemblance to someone in Barnabas’ past.

     As Barnabas brings the Collins family business back to prominence, he discovers who the head of the competing fishing business is.  Angelique has recreated herself several times over as the heir to the fortunes of her fishing company in Collinsport.  When she realizes Barnabas is back, she again attempts to force him into loving her for eternity or else.  It is the “or else” which leads us to a creative array of trademark Tim Burton visuals crossed with witty humor.  The film’s narrative is a bit choppy, but the set pieces created to allow Depp and Green work their magic together are something to see.  It is as if Burton again has created a living and well detailed world for his characters to occupy and he gives them interesting things to do and say within it.  What starts out as a “fish out of water” story turns into a play between the supernatural that includes witches, vampires, werewolves, and many other creatures who come to life from their power and magic.

     Johnny Depp delivers his lines in the same deadpan serious manner in which Chris Hemsworth delivered his lines as “Thor” and like that film, the results are good for several laughs.  Depp’s Barnabas never comes of age in the film, instead he maintains the same personality from beginning to end showing he flourishes because of who he is, not because of how others want him to be.  Burton’s real life wife, Helena Bonham Carter, always seems to get some of the oddest roles in her husband’s films and “Dark Shadows” is no exception.  Her presence makes for a nice sideshow within the house and adds a character who has a different agenda than the Collins family does.  Also notable, as usual, is the score by Danny Elfman, another frequent Burton collaborator.

     There may be nothing more important in a film than the creative force behind it and more often than not, Tim Burton has gotten it right for the better part of three decades now and he is certainly showing no signs of slowing down.  The way everything meshes together between story, script, acting, and design can only be done by a veteran creative talent like Burton. “Dark Shadows” is a solid outing for an actor and director who thrive on giving us something a little different than the norm, or as someone close to me says “a little weird.”  GRADE:  B