Tim Burton has always been a fan of the Frankenstein story, from his short Frankenweenie (which will be his next feature film) to the animated heroines of The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride. This obsession takes a different form in Dark Shadows, where he stitches together segments from half a dozen genres. His creation lurches from mood to mood, staggering forward exhaustedly, until it collapses.
It opens as a Gothic romance: Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp), inheritor of a fortune in colonial Maine, sees his fiancée (Bella Heathcote) go over a cliff and leaps to join her in death. He awakens to realize Angelique (Eva Green), a witch whose love he spurned, caused the girls death and, in some inexplicable way, has turned him into a vampire. With the help of torch-carrying villagers, she imprisons him for 196 years.
An excavation in 1972 unearths his coffin, and were in a fish-out-of-water comedy. He comes back to the family manor, now run by a disgusted matriarch (Michelle Pfeiffer) with an ineffectual brother (Jonny Lee Miller), a sullen daughter (Chloë Grace Moretz) and a frightened nephew (Gulliver McGrath). They and a live-in shrink (Helena Bonham Carter) introduce Barnabas to television, cars and other modernities in standard comic ways.
Meanwhile, theres a romance between Barnabas and Victoria, the new governess. Shes a ringer for his murdered fiancée and a living version of the pale-skinned, saucer-eyed heroines of Bride and Nightmare, though infinitely duller. I havent yet touched on the low comedy (Jackie Earle Haley as a drunken caretaker), the straight horror Barnabas slays more than a dozen people and drinks their blood with a smidgeon of remorse or the drama of family conflict. Thats meant to inspire pity for the nephew, who has visions of his dead mother.
Any of these alone might have amounted to a satisfying story; together, none do. Director Burton even seems bored: At one point, without warning, he has a character turn into a werewolf. That change comes out of nowhere, it goes nowhere, and the film would be the same without it. Burton throws it in only for cheap shock value.
All of the women are prevented from connecting with the audience: Green and Heathcote by lack of charisma, Pfeiffer by limited facial expressions, Carter by an underwritten character. Millers a shadow, the children scarcely more interesting than he.
Depps at home again, hiding beneath the wig and accent and layers of makeup where hes happiest. He has starred in the last five films Burton directed, and they know each other like brothers. So Depp summons every type of behavior Burton requires: heroism, zaniness, longing, wit, ferocity, sexuality, icy resolve. Had they stuck to one or two of these, we might have had a terrific film.