Tim Burton’s reworking of the cult-classic television programme “Dark Shadows” begins wondrously, leading us by the hand into a dark and chilling world, and then suddenly skipping ahead 196 years to the highly contrasting period of the 1970s. While well acted and visually impressive, Burton’s film still disappoints audiences. Despite the intriguing start, and the somewhat promising premise for both comedy and gothic content, Dark Shadows doesn’t really lead anywhere. It is, in essence, a well-groomed stallion that never leaves the starting race even after the audience has heard the starting-gun fire.
Johnny Depp stars in yet another Tim Burton film as Barnabus Collins, who as a young boy travelled from Liverpool to Maine with his wealthy parents. In the United States the Collins family establishes a prosperous fishing community named Collinsport, and on a hill overlooking both the town and the sea they build their mansion, the grandiose and gothic estate aptly named Collinswood. After refusing the love of a young girl named Angelique, Barnabus unknowingly brings a curse upon his family, as Angelique is in fact a witch. After his parents die mysteriously and his true love throws herself from a cliff, Barnabus is turned into a vampire, doomed to forever live in the shadows. Then one night Angelique leads the townspeople to Collinswood and the angry mob chain Barnabus and bury him in a coffin.
Meanwhile, Angelique – the witch who cursed the family – is the one who has taken over most of the fishing business in Maine, crushing the Collins’ business in the process. Barnabus must battle with this temptress, who claims she still loves him, in the process of restoring the family business and improving their public opinion- by throwing a ‘happening’ in which Alice Cooper star as the main act. There is another subplot about the governess Victoria, and how she resembles Josette (Barnabus’ lost lover) and how her and Barnabus are drawn to each other, but this subplot is not engaging for audiences (not that the main plot leads to a satisfying climax either).
Despite the strong start to the film and the initial allure of both the characters and the world they live in, we soon lose interest in the story in this film. Dark Shadows has such little substance to it that the film loses all momentum about halfway through, and the climax is disappointing. Johnny Depp leads a strong cast, with each actor taking their role quite seriously. Much can also be said in favour of the visuals of the film, with the style creating a dark and sinister gothic mansion, with the juxtaposition of the glitz and glamour of the 1970s (or what’s felt of it in this small fishing town). However, Tim Burton’s film doesn’t properly embrace any of its real potential for entertainment. The story instead simmers out and the climatic moments feel forced. While not a bad film, Dark Shadows is certainly not what it could have been.