Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street ★★


I really wanted to like this. A horror musical directed by Tim Burton seems like something that would instantly go in my favorites, but uhhhh this really wasn’t for me.

Sure, there are quite a few admirable aspects. The blasting score marries Stephen Sondheim’s clever rhymes and lyrics hauntingly, and particularly shines in “Johanna,” a touching ballad that reprises creatively, “My Friends,” a delightfully bizarre ode to knives, and “The Worst Pies of London,” which sets an ominous mood. But other than those three, the songs get lost in the mix and are pretty forgettable.

And everything about Helena Bonham Carter’s Mrs. Lovett is great. Her sinister personality is decorated with whispers, anxious little twitches, worrisome facial expressions, and brilliantly designed dresses. She does what the rest of the movie can’t seem to do: find the beauty and emotion in horror. Timothy Sprall and Alan Rickman complete the Harry Potter trio, and manifest with theatrical glee and downright wickedness. The best singer honestly though? Edward Sanders, who plays Toby, the one sign of sympathy and the one reason why you feel remotely compelled to watch this movie.

The makeup artists beautifully transform Johnny Depp into the titular character, with pale skin, bulging black eyes, and a nice nod to The Bride of Frankenstein, a white lightning bolt in his wild hair that completes the look. Depp has graced Burton’s movies with wit, whimsy, and just a wonderful presence in the past, but here? He spends his entire screen time grimacing and brooding. He’s like a broken record, playing, or in this case singing, the same note over and over again. Because his relationship with his wife is vaguely mentioned, Sweeney Todd’s need for revenge and knife rages eventually become robotic. Except for Mrs. Lovett, every single character is shoved into one-dimensional corner, and there’s a very blunt disconnection.

Dark, bleak, and teeming with sinister splendor, the visuals seem to be the most praised aspect of this movie, but I honestly think they’re not that... good? Think Netflix's A Series of Unfortunate Events--if it only took place in Count Olaf’s house. Every wide shot of London is so obviously CGI, akin to a video game. It looks really cool for the first ten minutes or so, but becomes incredibly redundant.

This cold, menacing presence that lurks in the shadows only adds to the overbearing sense of despair and boredom. Burton moves Sweeney Todd through a checklist of forced impulses as the story slogs through everlasting, dull episodes, descending in repetitive agony, just to reach a climactic ending. Admittedly, the final scenes are pretty shocking and bold, but I felt no sense of emotion when the credits started rolling. It left me with a cold, distant pit in my stomach, just reminding me that our lives are just a meaningless cycle until we get devoured. Maybe that’s the point, and if so, I wish that those thoughts led to something more meaningful.

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