Anne talks film: Dark Shadows (2012)

When it comes to films, the expectations you have for it can change the movie going experience. I went to see Dark Shadows (2012) last month and it did not live up to my expectations… but that is a GOOD thing.
As soon as I knew there was a Dark Shadows reboot on the horizon, starring Johnny Depp, I was very excited. I remember the previous reboot from 1991 that I watched when I was a freshman in college. Many of my friends, a few years older than me, remember the original gothic soap from the 60′s.
My expectations were high, but then I saw the trailer and these expectations were dashed. From the trailer it seemed that the most recent Dark Shadows incarnation was going to belong not to the genre of gothic drama, but to that of spoof remake, a genre that seems to have popped up sometime in the mid 1990′s.
This worried me greatly because the spoof remake genre has led to great disappointment for me on more than one occasion. It works for some products. For instance The Brady Bunch Movie(1995) could not possibly been handled any other way if it were to be taken seriously by a modern audience. My biggest disappointment from the application of such spoof treatment has to be Charlie’s Angels 2000. I grew up Charlie’s Angels (1976- 1981) series and watching glamorous women detectives cruising around in muscle cars with guns was a big influence on my identity as a woman so the spoof treatment of that reboot left me more than a little disappointed.
I know a lot of people for whom Dark Shadows (1966-1971) was equally influential and many of them were not happy to see the spoof treatment promised in the trailer. I went to the film with a friend who had indeed been so influenced by the original, both of us wondering what the audience would be for this film. We decided that the best audience for the reboot might be those too young to remember either the gothic soap or gothic drama versions. Indeed many of the trailers before the film seemed to be directed at teens but many other trailers seemed to have sophisticated dark humor to them. It was as if the distributors also were not quite sure what to make of this film.
I figured that since I was aware that Dark Shadows was to be a spoof, I could just enjoy it for what it was and not be disappointed the way I was with Charlie’s Angels, BUT it wasn’t a spoof. I am not sure what this film was. It was gothic but in a far less dramatic and romantic way than either of the series that came before it. After careful consideration I decided that comedy in it was quite cynical making the film a sophisticated hybrid. A cynical take on a highly romanticised concept, almost oxymoronic. It was quite good.
Of course the Barnabas Collins created by Johnny Depp is amazing. Nothing like the original by Jonathan Frid or that created in the early 90′s by Ben Cross. As is his habit, Depp took the character and made him his own. He plays Collins as multi-dementional. Innocent but worldly and calculating, adorable but repulsively pallid in complexion, and with just a hint of the classic vampyre, Nosferatu. There were also formidable performances by Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, and a powerful cameo performance by the great Christopher Lee.
Where the film was weakest for me was that it contained far too many characters for a feature film. It was difficult to understand why many of them, as likable and well played as the  were, were even in the film. I think the writers must have had difficulty in boiling down the material from an entire television series into one film. Every event in the film was well written but the over all story seemed to be pieced together as if it was the first draft result of a brainstorming session that perhaps should have been revised a few more times.
I had trouble following who all of the characters were. Some plot lines seemed to come out of nowhere and the film just felt cluttered with events that did not advance the story enough to justify their being included. Perhaps the biggest disappointment is that despite the fact that even though Depp’s Barnabas Collins has a love interest in the film, she is absent for much and Collins has sex with just about every woman except this true love.
Technically speaking I found the film over colored as many films are these days but for the most part aesthetically pleasing with impeccable lighting. At times I felt that the music selections were curious and broke the mood and that certain scenes could have benefited from more epic sound effects. The film has the look one would expect from a Tim Burton movie. The settings seemed at times to have the feel of a ride at a theme park so I would not be surprised if a Dark Shadows ride showed up somewhere in the future.
I think the film is worth seeing for Depp’s performance alone. He a genius and the reader won’t want to miss out. Don’t expect a spoof but don’t expect a romantic drama either. In fact attending this particular film with an open mind, free of expectations is perhaps the best way to experience Dark Shadows (2012)

About Anne La Barbera

Our resident film critic Anne LaBarbera was born in Austin, Texas. A joint US / Italian national her varied film career spans writing, directing, producing, wardrobe and (even) running for the BBC – she’s nearly done it all! When not at home in Hollywood, Anne likes to travel and feature her classic VW Scirocco in the movies, mostly her own. Catch more of Anne’s adventures on

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