Directed by Tim Burton
Since the success of Edward Scissorhands, Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have reached into progressively further-flung pop-cultural precincts in search of raccoon-eyed avatars of difference suitable for a teen audience. In Dark Shadows, their latest allegory of weirdness and belonging, Depp plays Barnabas Collins, the o.g. tortured vampire, from the supernatural ABC soap of the same name, sort of an afterschool counterculture fix for girls who spent ’66-’71 doing homework.
Frontloaded backstory fills in the Collins dynasty’s arrival in coastal Maine, and scion Barnabas’s curse by a spurned love and two centuries of entombment; and establishes Burton’s lately garish, shellacked, airbrushed aesthetic anew. Released and returned to his tumbledown ancestral mansion, Barnabas meets the current generation of Collinses, and, between doe eyes at mysteriously blank-slate governess Vicky (Bella Heathcote), and sundry uncovered family secrets and ghostly visitations, begins to revive the Collins canning empire, in defiance of the witchy local seafood baroness who, in fact, cursed him lo these centuries ago (Eva Green, doing a mewling New England tough-broad voice so extreme she sounds like she’s been dubbed by Kathy Bates).
The screenplay, by one-trick novelist Seth Grahame-Smith (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies; Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter), takes backbreaking pains to work in arcs from the original series, and characterizations genuflect back to their sources, notably matriarch Michelle Pfeiffer, with formidable updo and bearing, in a role originally assayed by Joan Bennett; Chloë Grace Moretz, jailbaiting it up worryingly as her teenybopper daughter; and shrink-in-residence Helena Bonham Carter, Burton’s wife as camp counselor for the rest of his cast. The storytelling does achieve a remarkable structural fidelity to the daytime serial format, with poorly thought-out characters disappearing for reels at a time, storylines competing for space amid arbitrary sequencing, and late, desperate reveals.
As Burton and Depp’s breakthrough years recede further into the rearview, they also seem to be pitching ever-younger audiences. Depp, lips pursed and diction precise, is a reliable purveyor of bent straight-man schtick; but it’s hard to imagine anyone old enough to feel legitimately lonely laughing at the frequent juxtaposition of cape-and-cane Barnabas’s dopily severe, courtly manners with cheap and plentiful oldies-radio hits. Oh, look, the vampire from the 18th century is complimenting a set of minidressed “birthing hips”! And now the vampire is sitting around a campfire discussing Love Story with a band of hippies! Etc.
Opens May 11