Written By: Casey Powers
Directed By: Tim Burton
Cast: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and Alan Rickman
Hey, did you hear that Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, and Helena Bonham Carter made a film together? It sounds like a setup to a joke now, doesn’t it? With the amount of less than spectacular collaborations this team has had in the past few years it’s easy to forget that these three are all very talented artists in their own right, and that shines through in Sweeny Todd.
The story of Sweeny Todd is based on the stage musical, which in turn is based on the 1846 novel The Strings of Pearls, which in turn is supposedly based on a true story which may or may not be legitimate.
The story itself follows Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp), going by the pseudonym Sweeny Todd, as he returns to London after being wrongly imprisoned for fifteen years. He plans on finding and killing the judge (Alan Rickman) who sentenced him to prison, raped his wife, and kidnapped his daughter.
While seeking revenge, Sweeny Todd opens a barber shop above Mrs. Lovett’s (Helena Bonham Carter) meat pie shop. Mrs. Lovett is sympathetic to Sweeny’s quest and suggests that he practice killing his customers and dispose of the bodies by baking them into Mrs. Lovett’s meat pies.
While this movie is not a horror movie in the sense that it is trying to scare its audience, it is horror in the sense that it is filled with disturbing concepts as well as a ton and a half of blood. The fact that Sweeny and Mrs. Lovett can easily sell people human corpses to eat and that no one notices, the awful sadism and corruption of the judge, and even a stomach churning twist, are all unnerving to say the least. It’s the kind of movie that sticks with the audience instead of just trying to startle them. It’s an approach that most mainstream horror movies don’t really try to do too often and it’s nice to see it attempted by such popular filmmakers.
Tim Burton’s direction really helps add to the movie’s atmosphere. Even though this movie is in color it feels like it’s in black and white. The film’s entire palette ranges from light grey to dark grey, and it totally helps along with the film. The grey bleak look of the film isn’t just a stylistic thing put in to give the film a unique look–its greyness reflects the harsh outlook this films has on humanity. There aren’t any optimistic thoughts in this movie and the colorless palette reflects that. However, there is one notable exception to the colorless rule, and that is the sweet bright red color of blood.
The blood in this film is the only thing that gives the film any sense of color. While real blood is dark red and almost black, Burton decides to use the bright red Hammer blood, as in Hammer Film’s super unrealistic Crayola colored blood from the fifties to the seventies. Many don’t like unrealistic blood in their films, but it works here for a couple of reasons. First is that it does give a nice contrast to the grey, greyer, and greyist look of the film, and the second is that it does a nice job showing Sweeny’s emotional state.
Sweeny Todd’s character is played very subdued and reserved, and I think that is mainly due to Johnny Depp’s portrayal. Depp is a fine actor but he admittedly doesn’t have a large range. I just can’t imagine Depp having a large emotional breakdown, and there is a scene where a breakdown would have been appropriate. Now, Johnny Depp’s emotionally dead inside Todd works for this film, but I can’t help but feel that had this been another actor’s take, it could have worked just a little bit better.
However over all, the performances are solid. There aren’t any weak spots that really pull the film down. The movie is well acted and the story is good. While I think some other actors could have made the musical numbers a little better, the songs are good and performed well enough. By the way, did I mention that this is a musical? Because it is.
Overall Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a nice change of pace for horror fans and has enough main stream appeal for the horror intolerant. It’s definitely worth a look.