x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Dark Shadows: truly irresistible

Roll-up, roll-up - the carnival is back in town! Tim Burton has made his movie again. You know the one: a well-known tale, now reheated with an added pinch of surrealism and a generous sprinkling of the macabre.

Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Johnny Depp, Eva Green, Helena Bonham Carter
***

Roll-up, roll-up - the carnival is back in town! Tim Burton has made his movie again. You know the one: a well-known tale, now reheated with an added pinch of surrealism and a generous sprinkling of the macabre. And the performers are here again, too; the man with the world's highest cheekbones and the woman with a face like a porcelain doll.

It may feel like the US filmmaker isn't trying anymore, but if that's the case, we only have ourselves to blame. His last big-screen outing, 2010's soulless, 3D reimagining of Alice in Wonderland, somehow went on to became one of the highest-grossing films ever made. Dark Shadows seems to prove the theory that as long as we keep paying the price of admission, Burton will carry on making the same movie. In this case, however, the film's "sameness" might just be the best thing about it.

Based on a gothic soap opera that debuted in 1966, the horror-comedy follows Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp), an 18th-century gentleman whose family travels from Liverpool to New England, where they become wealthy industrialists. But when Collins rejects the advances of a young witch (Eva Green), she kills his true love and curses him with vampirism, a fate that leads to him being buried alive for almost two centuries.

Fast forward to 1972 and the Collins family has fallen on hard times, with its business and estate in disrepair. When Barnabas is finally awoken, the loveable but dark-hearted fop quickly sets about trying to restore its fortunes, while (somewhat preposterously) attempting to keep his affliction a secret. Standing in his way, however, is the seductive witch who ruined him and, as a new love interest enters Collins's life, the shadowy figure's tragic history threatens to be repeated.

Like many of Burton's recent outings, far more energy seems to have been spent on creating the film's lavish surroundings than fleshing-out its characters. Other than Depp - who gives a performance hilarious enough to make you forget about his deeply irritating Willy Wonka and Mad Hatter - the devilish Green is the only supporting cast member who isn't underutilised. Then there are the narrative problems, with the film deciding to tell a completely different story every 15 minutes or so.

But somehow, this often unsettlingly raunchy and only somewhat amusing comedy just works. Barnabas is as magnetic a protagonist as you're likely to see all year, and, even for Burton, the world of Dark Shadows is rendered with breathtaking detail and irresistible beauty.

Just like the reluctant vampire of the story, we know that the meal on offer comes at a high price, but it's almost impossible to resist, nonetheless.