It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Tim Burton's "Dark Shadows" is all dressed up with nowhere to go, an elegant production without a central drive. It offers wonderful things, but they aren't what's important. It's as if Burton directed at arm's length, unwilling to find juice in the story. Yes, the original TV soap opera is a cult classic, but he approaches his "Dark Shadows" as an amusing trifle, and for a feature-length film, we need more than attitude to sink our teeth in.
The gripping early scenes create expectations the movie doesn't satisfy. We learn the early history of the Collins family in America, which would create a fishing dynasty and spawn the vampire Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp). Burton is famous for his visuals, and here we have a symphonic evocation of the gothic sensibility. He shows the erection of the Collinwood Manor, a shriek of architecture, on a hill above the new Maine town of Collinsport. We learn how young Barnabas falls in love with the angelic Josette (Bella Heathcote) and spurns the love of Angelique (Eva Green).
Angelique, a witch, forces Josette to flee in terror to a cruel stony finger pointing out from a rocky cliff. Waves dash the stones far below. He pursues her, tries to save her, but is unable to stop her from falling to her death. This is great storytelling, because it's played straight. I didn't expect the whole movie to be pitched at this level, but it sets a note the rest never matches. Barnabas, made into a vampire by Angelique, is wrapped in chains, sealed in a coffin and buried for 190 years. The story moves forward to 1972, where the joke is that a vampire like Barnabas from the 1700s is out of place.
Freed from his entombment, Barnabas returns to Collinwood to find it dilapidated and cobwebby, and the family fortunes in disrepair. As proud of his family as any 18th century merchant prince and as proud of the mansion as when his parents were building it, he moves in to set things right.