* * stars
Usually, a plot synopsis does not service either a decent movie review or the movie in question. But speaking of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, it might just do the trick.
Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) is out to get his. He wakes up from a centuries-long slumber to find out that the market in the fishing town his family once controlled has been monopolized by the same witch who cursed him to immortality and locked him in a coffin way back in the day.
Under the cover of perceived good intentions, he sets out to put the wayward Collins clan back on top. He enters in on a secret pact with the family’s reluctant matriarch (Michelle Pfeiffer) to keep his immortality a secret (oh yeah, he’s a vampire), hypnotizes some of the town’s best fishermen away from the competition, receives blood transfusions and oral sex from the family psychiatrist (Helena Bonham Carter, a real sport), and kills construction workers and hippies without regret. This dude is busy: he does all this while simultaneously courting the Collins’ barely legal governess (Bella Heathcote, yawn) and having airborne intercourse with the witch who’s cornered the market (Eva Green, hubba hubba).
Forgive Barnabas if he doesn’t have the energy left to weed the clichés out of his voiceover narration: “Blood is thicker than water,” he tells us twice, in a lame iteration of (what should be) Dark Shadow’s primary concern. Heredity, no matter how long you’ve been out of the game, is the primary weapon of bite-throat, er, cutthroat capitalism. If Daddy had it, you should have it, and if some perennially single broad gets in the way for a few hundred years, you sink your teeth into the competition and get her out of the way with whatever means at your disposal. After you’ve gotten in her pants, of course.
Dark Shadows is not quite what I want it to be: a subversive commentary about the ethics of the free market and the bloodlines of the 1 percent, all masquerading as a campy soap opera. In fact, it’s hard to believe after having described it that it’s such a bombastic bore, all its compelling complexity ultimately just a simplistic pretext for childish jokes about Barnabas’ Victorian propriety and anachronistic manner of speech in the supposedly free-living 1970s.
Burton once was an artist you could recognize from the way he filled Hollywood’s weirdo quotient by telling mainstream yet personal stories. But now he’s more relevant as a person inadvertently responsible for charged political and sexual content that seeps out of the otherwise sanitary and plastic commercial movie machine.