Forensic scientist Ichabod Crane is dispatched from New York to the small town of Sleepy Hollow to investigate the mysterious decapitations of three of the townspeople - when he arrives he learns that the local legend of the Headless Horsemen may not be a legend after all.
Staring Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Jeffrey Jones, Richard Griffiths, Ian McDiarmid, Michael Gough, Christopher Walken, Christopher Lee and directed by Tim Burton.
Based on the 1820 short story ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ by Washington Irving.
Cards on the table, I am not a fan of either Johnny Depp nor Tim Burton. I don’t hate every single piece they make - and this distaste isn’t limited to just their joint ventures either - I tend to have adverse reactions to their work in any combination.
My problem with them isn’t a unique case, they never personally scorned me, they never cut me off in traffic - my problem is that of exhaustion due to repetition.
There’s only so many Depp performances based around being ‘impulsive’, ‘eccentric’ and ‘quirky’ that a man can take before he reaches a breaking point. Sure I found it fun in the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ - even in the second one - I hit my limit when the third instalment came out, then ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, ‘Sweeney Todd’, the fourth pirates film. We then get to ‘Alice in Wonderland’ ‘Dark Shadows’ and ‘The Lone Ranger’ - his filmography became 'Captain Jack Sparrow in ___________' and my patience exhausted.
Mr Burton himself was no better - from ‘Beetlejuice’ to ‘Batman’ and even as far as ‘Corpse Bride’ his films had one thing going for them - his gothic, counter-mainstream aesthetic - and much like Depp - it was refreshing the first time. The tenth time though - and I am once again wearing thin.
Sleepy Hollow however, for me, is an entirely different story. It has by all means the makings of a personal cinematic abortion - Depp and Burton - the only thing it was missing was a shoehorned in Helena Bonham Carter role. But despite all of these reasons to be against it - this for me is the quintessential collaboration for the pair. Yes, even above ‘Edward Scissorhands’, by a long shot.
Here, Depp plays Ichabod Crane - a forensic investigator ahead of his time in New York. Making his move to the quiet county of Westchester - to the town of Sleepy Hollow, Crane sets up there as a string of violent decapitations occur around him. The people of the town are convinced that they are being haunted by a dark figure known only as the Headless Horseman.
The story plays out as a horror mystery as Crane endeavours to uncover the cause of the crimes in an attempt to stop them - and that’s where I’m happy to leave the plot of this film - not because it’s a new story (hardly) - but on the off chance you haven’t already seen this film, it will definitely best play out as a mystery among other things.
So what do we get from this film?
Well we get our usual cast of Burton alumni, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Christopher Walken, and of course we get a sublimely sinister score by Danny Elfman. Say what I will about Burton in his later years, but at least the man knows how to recycle.
If there’s one compliment we can all pay it’s that Burton fills the screen with both recognisable faces, but also ones of a certain quality.
This cast is utilised akin to that of a typical slasher film - however in execution it is done in a much more intelligent way - as the film continues the body count begins to rise - and Burtons use of recognisable faces is a great shorthand to make you care every time. Gone are the screaming blonde bimbos of Crystal Lake, this town is full of people that you know and care about.
Depp’s performance is decidedly underplayed compared to his now more infamous roles, Ichabod is a reserved character. He’s not without his quirks, but he acts within his place, never allowing himself to outshine or ham up the scene - and through doing this his performance helps to enrich the world being built here as your focus is never too far drawn from the plot.
The film plays out as a typical murder mystery with a period piece flair to it, albeit with supernatural elements and from start to finish is both engaging and well paced.
By far, for me, this is the best that this pair has given us - and for what I fear we will get. Not that that seems to be a deterrent for either of them to attempt a change of tact. I strongly recommend that if you have any stake in either this actor or director combination that you give this film a look.
- Sebastian B