When I saw the trailer for Dark Shadows, Tim Burton’s newest feature, I wasn’t sure what to think. It shifted colour between silly comedy red and stupid drama blue so often I was getting an epilepsy attack. That’s a bad sign: if the trailer to a straightforward movie (hey, we’re talking Burton) can’t decide on what it wants to show, it’s usually because the movie doesn’t know what it is.
Turns out that was exactly the case. Warning, this is a terribly written review for a terribly written movie.
“An imprisoned vampire, Barnabas Collins, is set free and returns to his ancestral home [in the 1970s], where his dysfunctional descendants are in need of his protection.” Thank you IMDB. Sounds reasonable enough, no? I’d go watch it.
But unfortunately, Dark Shadows was a mess. It wasn’t a mess all the way like Alice in Wonderland had been two years prior, but it was a mess nonetheless. For me, Alice screwed up pretty much everything from visualization to story to – in some extent – acting.
Now let me reassure you: Dark Shadows looks great and the actors play well enough. Depp is a wonderful vampire-in-1972 and this time, the Burton charm of making the normal abnormal and vice versa seems to work as well. It takes about five seconds before you realize the 1970s Collins family is even more absurd than the 18th century vampire that invades their home.
Unfortunately, that’s about it: well enough acting and a few memorable shots. A shame, you might say. How could this be? Let me save you the trouble and put the blame on the screenwriter.
Kill the fluff
Stephen King once said: “Everyone has a history, and most of it isn’t very interesting.” This is the cardinal rule of economic storytelling and one Dark Shadows breaks right off the bat. Not only does the movie feature two quite boring flashbacks (one for Barnabus Collins and one for his love interest, Vicky), the flashbacks are so unnecessary it hurts: Barnabus details his unfortunate events to a family member later on (at which point you’re considering you’re having a déjà vu); Vicky has already shown the important information about her own past (she can see ghosts and it will have absolutely NO PAY-OFF!) in one of her opening scenes.
But hey, Vicky’s not that important anyway. Apart from her scenes at the start of the movie and that god-awful flashback, she pretty much didn’t exist in the movie’s world. It’s like she was cut in as an afterthought. Imagine this: you can’t find the love of your life and your house is burning down. Will you panic or just stand around and wait it out? While nicely shot, this blatant lack of character insight in the movie’s ultimate climax infuriated me.
And it’s not just her. Safe for Barnabus and Angelique, the characters were all over the place, they were managed improperly, as if the writer didn’t know who was where, when and why. Like dropping a bunch of five year-olds at Disneyland.
To be frank: I felt like I was watching a first draft. At no point did the screenplay make use of the characters’ different ideas on who Collins were, and then all of a sudden we’re supposed to buy into the reveal that he’s a vampire as something dramatic. If the movie forgot, so will I. It stayed at a bland hodgepodge of an 18th century vampire in the seventies wondering what a lava lamp is. Ouch.
And that’s what killed it. A bad screenplay with some well-enough dialogue (just enough so the big names could save their characters) causing a bland and poorly edited/cut movie. I don’t want to be an ass, but Seth Grahame-Smith, you really dropped the ball here. I’m already looking forward to your second colaboration with Tim Burton (Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter) and upcoming movie Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.