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I wasn't impressed by Tim Burton's previous foray into R-rated bloody horror in Sleepy Hollow, but I think he found his story for that tone in Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd.
This is one of those awful stories that's bleak from start to finish, where at no point can anything be described as "all right". And that's why it's such a good tragic slasher story.
Todd is a man who's earned his right to revenge, having his family stolen from him by a corrupt judge and getting sent away to prison. When he returns home to disgusting Victorian London, he rents out his room again above the floundering Mrs. Lovett's pie shop, and plans to get the judge in his barber chair and under his razor. This falls apart, however, and after losing his chance, Todd goes off the deep end and starts killing random customers, and practical Mrs. Lovett sees an opportunity to improve her business and get rid of the bodies at the same time. Meanwhile, Todd's daughter Johanna is living with the judge, and Todd and his friend Anthony conspire to get her back.
The story is very good at making the viewer tense and uncomfortable. Again, the whole thing is screwed from start to finish, and I think the dark tone keeps the murders horrific while the intimate style of film helps the two leads' sympathetic sides. Like any good tragedy, pieces pile up and fall apart in some surprising ways. The stage show was apparently more comedic, but good lord, it doesn't need to be if this film is any indication. It's great as a pure horror story.
I think the cast was pretty good. Todd is a rare Johnny Depp role where it felt like he was challenged by his part, and he rose to it. Helena Bonham Carter makes for a fascinating Lovett, seeming human and kind but driven to monstrousness by her place in society and personal desires. The rest of the supporting cast are all talented, and for a group composed mostly of inexperienced singers, you can barely tell. I do think Anthony was hard to like due to his ideal "I'll save a girl I've never met" attitude, a result of compressing that subplot for the film.
The visual style of the film is similarly heavy and colorless to Sleepy Hollow, and the grading switches nicely to infernal tones once the murders and baking begin. This style also makes a fantasy sequence pop that much more in its pretty colors. They don't hold back on the violence and gore, either, which works better for something that was a slasher story from the start. Sleepy Hollow invented a plot and tone for something that didn't always have it.
It is an achievement to create a thoroughly messed-up story of murder and crime and yet make it a satisfying tragedy. But this film does it, with some great music and visuals as well.
As someone who is a fan of neither Stephen Sondheim nor Tim Burton, I found that this film for me sort of compounded their faults as well as their virtues. It generally works aesthetically, and some story beats come off very well, but this is also a collision of two colossal egos whose towering arrogance and self indulgence are fighting one another on-screen.
Probably wouldn’t have commented to respond to that if not for wanting to provide people on the latest reviews page a way to access this one though, and as usual you do a good job of articulating what you liked and why.
Oops,I forgot about that. Saved it for the end, and never actually added it. Thanks.
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