There's a scene from the film Blow (2001) about cocaine dealer George Jung where Johnny Depp says, "I'm really great at what I do, Dad. I mean I'm really great at what I do." Ray Liotta responds, "Let me tell you something, George. You'd have been great at anything."
So it is with Johnny Depp and his decision to play one heavily made-up weirdo after another in each of Tim Burton's increasingly uninspired films. I'm sorry to report that Dark Shadows is not an exception. Yes, Johnny Depp is "great" at playing Barnabas Collins. He'd be even greater if he gave up the ghost and went back to the kind of gritty, grown-up films we all miss seeing him in.
The movie is an adaptation of a soap opera from the late '60s, which apparently enjoys a cult following. Some fans of the original are perturbed that their beloved soap has been made into a comedy, but this is a small contingency and they needn't worry, because Dark Shadows is not funny.
Barnabas and his family came to America from Liverpool in the 18th century, started a booming fishing industry off the port of Maine and built a big spooky mansion for future generations of Collinses to live in. Barnabas made a beautiful witch named Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) mad by liking her very much but not loving her, so she killed everyone he ever loved and turned him into a vampire. An angry mob buried him in a casket where he stayed for 196 years, until some unlucky construction workers unearthed the tomb.
Out pops Barnabas into the 1970s, a strange place with paved roads and troll dolls. He doesn't know what a lava lamp is and he thinks cars are dragons. This world frightens and confuses him! We get it. It's sort of funny when he concludes there's a tiny woman stuck inside the television, except by the time the story delivers this gag, he's been living in the 1970s for a while; you'd think he'd have seasoned his admiration. Barnabas takes love advice from some peace-loving longhairs. When, afterward, he sucks out their blood with his sharp pointy teeth, no one seems to mourn them. The movies are always taking cheap shots at hippies and it hurts my feelings. What? Is it wrong to hate the war? Goths can be so mean.
If nothing else, Tim Burton still knows how to create atmosphere. Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote) is the new governess with a secret. She comes into town on a train while "Nights in White Satin" plays on the soundtrack. This eerie and beautiful beginning doesn't give away just how little you're going to care later. Tim Burton can't create meaningful characters or cogent storylines, but I would totally follow his photography blog on Instagram.
Nobody in Collinswood suspects that a man who walks around town with long bicuspids, pointy fingernails and dark blush might be a vampire until they're explicitly told through a series of underwhelming reveals. Instead of being amazed, they're all, "Why didn't you tell me?" When Alice Cooper comes to play a show at the Collins mansion, the big joke is that Barnabas thinks he's the ugliest woman ever, when everyone should really be thinking "Why is Alice Cooper an old man in 1972?"
Dark Shadows is a failure because it has no emotional center. Burton cares more about introducing static characters on tired plot trajectories than he does in taking the time to properly develop any one of them. Once the novelty of the premise wears off, we're left to wait in horror for the film to wrap up in a flurry of special effects. Since just about everyone is mostly immortal, for a second I panicked that we too would be stuck in the theater for all time. But, with a combination of ghost plus undead plus werewolf against witch, the film finds a way. I would warn you of spoiler alerts, but Dark Shadows made so little an impression that I already kind of don't remember how anyone met their doom or why.
I recall that in the final shot, one of Barnabas's victims opens her eyes suddenly underwater, just like Jason did at the end of one of the Friday the Thirteenths. Even in this lame promise of a sequel that I pray to God never happens, the film is derivative and boring. Tim Burton. How to put this: You suck.
Dark Shadows continues at the Carmike 12.