Dark Shadows

(M) General release
113 minutes

THE dark places of Tim Burton have become a bit of a comfort zone these days, and this bright, zany, lightweight Gothic adventure is no exception. Its design is impressive and its mood disarming, and it has some striking special effects, but its storytelling is sluggish, and its humour often a little forced and obvious.

Dark Shadows - Trailer

An imprisoned vampire is set free and returns to his ancestral home, where his dysfunctional descendants are in need of his protection.

The initial inspiration for Dark Shadows was a 1960s TV show of the same name, a half-hour series of Gothic misadventures. One of its star attractions was a dapper vampire called Barnabas Collins: Burton's movie, written by Seth Grahame-Smith, revisits his story.

Johnny Depp is the pale, courtly Collins, an 18th-century Maine resident who ran foul of a woman whose affections he toyed with, then rejected. She was, it turns out, a witch with a major hell-hath-no-fury attitude. She dispatched to a watery grave the woman he chose over her, then turned him into a vampire and locked him in a coffin for 200 years.

By 1972, he breaks free, and sets off to Maine to check up on the family fortunes. He discovers a business in decline, a crumbling mansion, and a family in disarray, as well as some 20th-century inventions and conventions he is not prepared for. The members of the Collins clan are deftly introduced, but never made much of: only Helena Bonham Carter, as a psychiatrist who tends to the youngest family member, has enough of a character to sink her teeth into. And the fate of the family fishing business is a plot line that seems to belong to another movie altogether.

Depp, deadpan, elegant and composed, is the star turn, delivering his lines with languid relish. Barnabas soon learns that his spurned love, Angelique (Eva Green), is still a force to be reckoned with, and has neither forgiven or forgotten him. The energy that drives the film, in fact, comes from the contrast between the restrained, dandy style of Barnabas, and the ferocious, avid intensity of Angelique, given the full force of the special effects department to make her presence felt. There's a high-energy vampire sex scene between the two that is one of the film's comic highlights. No one else in the film - including Barnabas' lost true love, Josette, and a wide-eyed new governess, Victoria (both played by Australian actress Bella Heathcote) - has the weight of Green's vengeful character, although Bonham Carter's sardonic, flame-haired shrink certainly has her moments.