The trailers for Dark Shadows are a perfect example of false advertising. Based on the trailers, Dark Shadows would appear to be a goofy fish out of water story. In reality, the film is more of a Gothic fantasy, with a splash of humor mixed in for good measure. A film of this nature would have been a tough sell, so it comes as no surprise that the ads have decided to focus on the comedic aspect of the film. Unfortunately, this will leave audiences feeling underwhelmed. Dark Shadows is not a bad film, but it’s tonally challenged and its reputation will suffer due to bad advertising.

Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) is a wealthy 18th century playboy. When he ends a love affair with a woman named Anqelique Bouchard (Eva Green), she proceeds to place a curse on him, turning him into an immortal vampire. He is locked in a coffin for nearly 200 years until he is released in the year of 1972. Barnabas decides to reunite with his living relatives, hoping that he can restore the family to its once great glory.

Dark Shadows is written by the comedic horror author Seth Grahame-Smith. This is his first screenplay, and his lack of experience shows. One of the biggest problems is that the film is not very funny. There are not as many jokes as one would expect, which could lead someone to argue that the film was never meant to be comedic. Still, the film contains a moderate amount of jokes, and most of them fall flat. Many of the jokes do contain a good deal of wit, but Grahame-Smith writes them with such poor delivery. Johnny Depp is a hilarious individual; if he can’t make your screenplay funny, then your screenplay isn’t funny.

The script also suffers due to a lack of character development. Almost all of the characters are one dimensional, with some of them being so bland that most viewers will forget that they were even in the movie at all. This family cannot connect with each other, causing each character to feel cold and distant. A romance develops between Barnabas and the family’s governess Victoria (Bella Heathcote), but their relationship is developed so poorly that it seems to be based on infatuation instead of love.

After having made Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows appears to be a return to form for director Tim Burton. His visual style is perfect for the Gothic atmosphere of this film. There is a sharp contrast between the dark colors of the mansion and the bright colors of the 1970’s that creates beautiful visuals that carry throughout the film. The film may be slightly forgettable, but the set pieces and art direction are sure to stay in the mind’s eye for quite some time.

Johnny Depp has become a wonderful character actor, so it comes as no surprise that his portrayal of Barnabas Collins is absolutely fantastic. Eva Green also stands out as the film’s primary antagonist, and a late visual effect involving her skin is one of the coolest aspects of the film. The only other memorable performance comes from Chloe Grace Moretz, who is given the role of a moody teenager named Carolyn. Any other actress would have caused Carolyn to become tiresome and annoying, but Moretz adds a sweetness to her character that keeps her interesting.

Dark Shadows will be viewed as one of Tim Burton’s weakest films, but it has enough redeeming moments to warrant a recommendation. The soundtrack is catchy and perfectly fits the feel of the 1970’s. The opening credits playing to the song “Nights in White Satin” by The Moody Blues, is both haunting and beautiful. I have no idea if the film will please fans of the old TV series that it is based on, but I can attest to the fact that Dark Shadows is an entertaining mess.

Dark Shadows receives 2.5/4

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