Sloggy, spiritless and bawdy in all the wrong places, Tim Burton’s semi-modern interpretation of Dark Shadows refuses to pick a hat and wear it. It exhibits wildly disparate touches of melodrama, horror, slapstick, big-eyed Burtonism and unabashed camp, but never once puts in the effort required to make any path crystallize.
The cultish supernatural soap, responsible for bringing creature-feature staples to daytime TV, seems the ideal project for Burton and hetero life partner Johnny Depp, both reportedly huge fans of the series. But for a feature sold as a vehicle for Depp to stretch his vampiric legs as iconic neck-biter Barnabas Collins, this Shadows starts off strangely, shackled to the perspective of Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote), a wisp of a woman applying for a governess position with the peculiar Collins clan 200 years after Barnabas is buried by jilted lover/witch Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green). After being unearthed by a construction crew, Barnabas’ entry into modernity (early-’70s Maine) is heavy on this-modern-life gags — hardy har, he doesn’t know what McDonald’s is and thinks Alice Cooper is a woman. But even the edges of those easy jokes are dulled by superfluous characters, like Roger Collins (Jonny Lee Miller), who contributes nothing as the father to spooky young David (Gulliver McGrath), or drunken Dr. Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter), David’s live-in shrink and gifter of unnecessary vamp fellatio.
Depp’s Barnabas is more scrappy and humorous than Jonathan Frid’s original, but the flabby trappings of the love triangle between he, Victoria and Angelique temper any real exploration of the character, comical or not. Burton treats Chloe Grace Moretz, Michelle Pfeiffer and Jackie Earle Haley, all great actors with something to contribute, as afterthoughts, too wrapped up in his own brand to let the right film in.