I can easily describe Tim Burton‘s latest film Dark Shadows with three words: contrast, humor and family (and of course gore, quirkiness and dark omedy. It is a Burton film after all).
Starting Johnny Depp in his latest collaboration with the director, he plays Barnabas Collins, a vampire who awakens almost 200 years into his “future” in 1972.
We know Depp can play the out-of-place/funny/weird-looking guy very well, and he doesn’t disappoint this time around. He is hilarious yet again as his usual charming self, playing a character that resembles some of the perks of his most famous roles: he can be “suave” as Jack Sparrow and at the same time a complete outsider as Edward Scissorhands (apparently Burton has a thing about painting him as pale as possible and giving him weird-looking hands).
I liked the rest of the cast as well. Michelle Pfeifer as the family’s matriarch Elizabeth Collins, Bella Heathcote as Barnabas’s love interest, but the one performance I liked the most (besides Depp’s) was the beautiful Eva Green as Angelique. She plays a ruthless witch who won’t stop chasing after Barnabas in the most obsessive/aggressive of ways (hey, nothing says “I love you” like killing your interest’s parents, fiance, and cursing the rest of his family and himself). She is so seductive yet so scary at the same time, you can tell she’s having a blast being over the top mischievous.
Another one who you can tell was also having fun in that set was Burton. He’s not unfamiliar with horror, and his take on the vampire genre is filled with nothing but homages and nods to previous entries. Don’t expect anyone sparkling here: in his take vampire’s don’t reflect on mirrors, are affected by the sun, and my favorite part (minor spoiler), they feed on humans (finally!). Also Depp’s make up and long fingered hands are a straight call back to Munau’s Nosferatu and Black and White vintage horror films. Even Christopher Lee (the original Dracula) has a cameo in which Collins hypnotizes him. Johnny Depp said in an interview he considered that opportunity an honor and a lot of fun to film.
But despise all the praising so far, even I had to admit this film is not for everyone, and that it has some (a few) flaws. Even acknowledging the campy tone, some plot points are not completely described and a little confusing. I wish they were developed a little more, especially the ones related to the Collins’s family ancestry. But the overall humor and silly self mockery approach to the plot helped me overcome this fact to keep enjoying it and stay engaged all the way through.
“Contrast” was another word I attributed to this effort. Barnabas’s face, color and high accentuated features makes him look like he just jumped out of a German Expressionism film. So when he is set in this psychedelic, pop-art bright colored environment surrounding the 70’s, he doesn’t just look but is completely out of his element. To enhance this feeling, Danny Elfman‘s somber and beautiful score is juxtaposed with tunes from that era: Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, The Carpenters. The results, even if it sounds odd, is truly fascinating. Watching a character from another era while listening to Barry White in a hilarious sequence was just the perfect choice in my opinion. This is an “era” piece that just doesn’t play as one.
Burton has often mentioned that he has always felt himself as an outcast. And you can tell that is the common denominator in his entire body of work: characters that are misfits, not comfortable under their own skins, misunderstood. And this story is no exception at its core, and probably that’s why I enjoyed so much. Being an outcast is not a bad thing, and if you are Johnny Depp playing a hilarious vampire, even better.
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