The best way to describe Tim Burton’s film Dark Shadows is to simply say that it is a film with absolutely no direction. It begins with promise, but then the ending (with its ample twists and turns) makes it seem as though two completely different scriptwriters composed the script without communicating the same ideas, one set on establishing the dark, brooding environment surrounding the Collins family in the midst of the erection of the fishing industry that secures their wealth, the other focused simply on the aftermath of a seventeenth century vampire coping with the seventies.
The film falls apart in the last twenty minutes. To put it bluntly, there is no consistency and the ending seems rushed. The story line is lost in the ridiculousness of the plot twists, and is crowded with terrible humour. It’s mayhem! It seeks to serve no other purpose than possibly to answer the question, how absurd can I make this without having to explain what’s happening? The witch, Angelique (Eva Green), arrives at the Collins’ residence to discover that Barnabas (Johnny Depp) is still alive, despite her attempt to trap him in a box for a second time. Suddenly, without warning, the walls of the house begin to bleed and the statues come alive and it seems as though the poor Collins’ family has met its end. But no! The son of Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer)’s brother has been communicating with the ghost of his mother after her ship went down at sea (Angelique’s doing of course). Throughout the film, we understand that the family thinks the child is suffering psychologically in response to this traumatic experience, when, in fact, he is actually speaking to his dead mother’s spirit. In the initial scenes of the film, the spirit of the deceased mother is written off as a figure conjured up by a depressed child’s imagination. However, in the last few minutes of the film when the Collins seem to lose everything, the ghost saves the day. There is no explanation and everything is resolved. The ghost arrives, injures the witch, and we never hear or see of the spirit again. The opening scenes build tension that continues midway through the film, then, as though the writer was too tired to think of how to resolve the story, he threw in a ghost, but not before revealing (again with no lead-up) that the daughter is a werewolf. Gasp! This revelation gives absolutely nothing to the plot except to further ruin the writing as the daughter throws in the line, “I’m a werewolf; deal with it.”
A big part of the plot that sets up the story and moves it forward is never adequately explained: Angelique loves Barnabas and even after 190 years of him being locked up in a coffin, she still loves him and the pangs of jealousy still drive her to ruin his life in any way she can. She kills his parents, kills his lover, robs him of his wealth, turns him into a vampire, and finally, locks him in a coffin. Almost two hundred years later, this jealousy continues and she is reduced to a maniacal figure who only seeks to destroy her beloved. Her actions stem only from the spurn of this unrequited love-- I am not quite sure what kind of a comment is to be made for feminism here. This coupled with a drunkard psychiatrist (Helena Bonham Carter) who is terrible at her job and concerned only with appearances, and a calm, silent woman who would rather jump to her death than live a mortal life alongside her immortal vampire lover makes a somewhat sad statement about women. Even less of a statement is to be made about love. Barnabas speaks of his one true love and having found her, but once she jumps to her death and he is freed from his confinement almost two hundred years later, he falls for another true love who resembles his first one while flirting with the psychiatrist and letting her demonstrate the sexual treats of doctor/ patient confidentiality, has sex with his enemy, Angelique, and passionately kisses almost every female character in the film. He even slaughters a crew of hippies after conversing with them on issues of love, peace, and soul mates.
All in all, the film has a decent beginning, and a terrible plot which culminates in a terrible ending (given the final scene, there may even be a sequel). The acting is great, but given that you’re dealing with Depp, Pfeiffer, and Helena Bonham Carter, there is really no surprise there. The sets and visual aspect of the film are also great, but no surprise there either since Tim Burton is good when it comes to the visual aspects. He fails mostly at storytelling.