No director, however talented they are, can expect to hit pay dirt with every movie they make and although Tim Burton has a better track record than most (let’s not even discuss Alice in Wonderland) this, his latest slice of gothic jiggery-pokery, really doesn’t cut the mustard.
Unless you are an American of a certain age, you probably don’t know the cult US TV series from which the film takes its source material, but it really doesn’t matter because the script is so underwritten the film is all over the place and has gaping holes in its narrative which means it could actually have been lifted from anywhere.
Johnny Depp is Barnabas Collins, the beloved scion of a wealthy Liverpudlian family that sails to the New World in the 18th century and establishes a successful fishing empire. But after Barnabas indulges in a bit of hanky panky with maid Angelique (Eva Green) the family’s fortunes are doomed for Angelique is a witch and when Barnabas shuns her affections she curses the whole house of Collins. Which is how Barnabas ends up as a vampire, locked in a coffin for two centuries until he’s accidentally dug up and comes face-to-face with the modern world.
He is also reunited with the remnants of his clan and what a motley crew they are; from harassed matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), through to her stroppy teenage daughter (Chloe Grace Moretz). There’s even a sozzled psychiatrist (Helena Bonham Carter) living with the family in its ruined mansion, ostensibly to help Elizabeth’s nephew get over the drowning of his mother. So, although this is a classic story of a fish out of water, Barnabas as the 200-year-old vampire is actually far less strange than his relatives. He still gets to do his stranger in a strange land wide-eyed perplexed expression though as he encounters tarmac’d roads and electricity for the first time. Then of course, there’s Angelique, still doing her witchy worst and still intent on securing the affections of Barnabas until a new nanny arrives on the scene (Bella Heathcote) who is the spitting image of Barnabas’ beloved late wife.
It’s a set up that could have been highly amusing (it’s also set in the 1970s so there are plenty of lava lamps, Carpenters’ songs and hippy dudes) but the script seems ill at ease with itself, scenes don’t flow comfortably into each other and when major plot twists are revealed you find yourself thinking ‘where the hell did that come from?’ as their back stories are non-existent. In fact, nothing hangs together until the last quarter of an hour of the film when everything explodes into life.
Depp’s performance isn’t as raucous as his Captain Jack Sparrow, but that’s more the fault of the lacklustre script than his acting, while other members of the cast are woefully underused (Jonny Lee Miller only makes it into a couple of scenes). So, all in all a disappointing offering from Burton who can, on a good day, do ten times better than this.