Warner Bros.’ trailer for Tim Burton’s eighth collaboration with Johnny Depp, “Dark Shadows,” had me salivating for a fun 70s romp at the movies. And the film looks and sounds great, with a witty Danny Elfman 70s score and a strong cast. So why is the film such an enervating disappointment? Well, Burton can do wacky comedy–see “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure,” “Beetlejuice,” “Ed Wood,” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” And he can do atmospheric horror–see “Sleepy Hollow” and “Sweeney Todd.” What went wrong here?
The script. Warners assembled a bunch of moving parts–let’s remake a 60s TV soap opera with commercial vampire elements and let “Dark Shadows” fans Tim Burton and Johnny Depp do their thing–without ever fashioning a compelling reason for moviegoers to care a whit about what happens. And while vampires and witches might have seemed novel in a soap opera four decades ago, that ground is certainly overplowed now. Sure, this overly familiar movie can be momentarily diverting, but comme toujours, it devolves into over-the-top visual effects mayhem, mostly on the part of wicked witch Angelique (Eva Green), whose one-note histrionics get tired after a while.
Aside from Depp, who is entertaining throughout as an 18th century fish-out-of-water vampire speaking deliciously anachronistic English (most of the best lines are given away in the trailer), none of the actors have much to do, including Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Chloe Moretz nor Jackie Earle Haley. “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” author Seth Grahame-Smith and John August’s plot and dialogue are flat and predictable at best. Which makes me wonder about Burton and Timur Bekmambetov’s upcoming “Vampire Hunter,” a movie I was also looking forward to. “Dark Shadows” will open well to older audiences and then fall off, I suspect.
Justin Chang, Variety
Through it all, Depp gives a typically committed, exquisitely deadpan performance, looking quite at home with his claws, matted-down hair spikes and heavy eye-shadow, and turning the character’s archaic diction into a form of baroque music. As often happens when he gets his freak on, the actor seems lost in a private world, channeling ghosts whose frequency he alone can detect. Up until an f/x-laden climax that desperately conjures everything from “Rebecca” to “Death Becomes Her,” Depp just about holds it all together, unsurprisingly emerging as the pic’s most reliable element.
Todd Gilchrist, The Playlist
But even if it isn’t, there’s nothing better to do with this movie than to damn it with precisely that sort of faint praise, and then hope it disappears quickly from screens. Because “Dark Shadows” is, at its absolute best, an awful movie, an unfocused mess, and a top-notch piece of production and costume design in search of a story. Maybe it’s still lurking somewhere in those shadows, but for my money, no more light need be shone on this kind of grim display.
Nick Pinkerton, The Village Voice
In the midst of all this is an unusually dandy bit of dress-up from Depp, weaving his elongated Nosferatu fingers through the air, recalling an exchange in 1994’s “Ed Wood,” (“Bela, how do you do that?” “You must be double-jointed. And you must be Hungarian.”) Wood is still by far Depp and Burton’s best collaboration, exhibiting the balance of tone between kitsch parody and zealous fantasy that’s missing in Dark Shadows, less a resurrection than a clumsy desecration.
Marshall Fine, The Huffington Post
When Tim Burton and Johnny Depp decided, “Oh, wouldn’t it be fun to make a movie out of the campy ’60s TV show Dark Shadows,” the correct response should have been the following three words: “Wild Wild West.” Apparently no one had the stones to say that to Burton or Depp, whose inflated reputations rest on their box-office clout, much more than their artistic vision. And so we have “Dark Shadows,” as dreary a big-budget extravaganza as you’re likely to see this year (unless Michael Bay springs a movie on us unexpectedly).
Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter
The latest ’60s/’70s TV show to get all dressed up as a fancy, big-budget feature film, Dark Shadows sinks its teeth half-way into its potentially meaty material but hesitates to go all the way. With an oddball premise that’s right up his alley, director Tim Burton has stylish fun with a morally-and-time-warped family visited by an undead 18th century relative, as does Johnny Depp in the role of the antique British-accented vampire. But the humor slithers between the clever and the sophomoric and the film too often seems willing to settle for mild humor at the expense of hippie-era mores instead of pursuing the palpable temptation to become genuinely twisted.
Christy Lemire, Associated Press
At the same time, “Dark Shadows” feels too languid, bogged down as it is with an obsessive eye for period costumes (the work of Colleen Atwood) and interior details rather than offering anything resembling an engaging story. And by the time Burton finally puts his patented flair for visual effects to its best use, in a climactic showdown between Barnabas and the witch who cursed him (the va-va-voomy Eva Green), it’s too late.
Peter Keough, The Phoenix
By the time ‘Dark Shadows’ gets to the opening credits, it is already Tim Burton’s best film since ‘Ed Wood’, but then I’ve always had a soft spot for the Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin.” … That theme of family values will return with gratuitous regularity, but it doesn’t drown out Burton’s macabre wit, his fizzy mix of camp, nihilism, and unexpected beauty.
Drew McWeeny, Hit Fix
The thing is, even acknowledging the ways that the film fails, I still found myself enjoying a good deal of it… The film certainly plays the fish-out-of-water side of Barnabas and his dislocation for laughs, but the film plays a lot of different tones from moment to moment. The film feels like they’ve taken a couple of years worth of storylines from the series and shoehorned them all into a two hour span, and while that may sound frantic, I like the way the film manages to suggest the rhythms and wackadoo invention that is part of the source material.