Review: Sleepy Hollow (1999)

sleepy-hollow-christopher-walken

Good lord, how tiny is Christina Ricci?

Screenplay By: Andrew Kevin Walker
Directed By: Tim Burton

Ah, Sleepy Hollow, the perfect vehicle for Tim Burton. The director who has a flare for impressive visuals and loves the macabre and Gothic is finally given a setting that begs for a macabre and Gothic treatment. How did the director of such moody pieces as Batman Returns, Beetle Juice and Corpse Bride handle finally being given his golden egg? He hit an inside the park home run naturally. Why not an over the fence one, well, there are some things that stopped that ball from clearing the wall and instead sent it careening into the corner while Burton motored around the base paths.

In almost every film of his I have seen Burton tries to set a moody atmosphere and tone right away. In Sleepy Hollow Burton sets the tone and mood right away, and he does so with a look at a decidedly dark New York followed by some impressively crafted credits. Throughout Sleepy Hollow Burton never lets up on the tone and atmosphere, keeping things dark with a muted hue, nor does Danny Elfman let up on his terrific score. I know I have the bad habit of using too much hyperbole and quick shot words, but the score in Sleepy Hollow truly was haunting and added to the already dark atmosphere.

The acting doesn’t need much mention, because it is an impressive cast and they all do their part. Although one moment did give me a pause, but that was because of its odd visual and not any downfall in the acting. There is a moment when Christina Ricci is standing next to Marc Pickering, Young Masbeth, and it is an odd moment. The story has just impressed upon the audience that Ricci and Johnny Depp are the love interests of the story in a non-conventional fashion. Then you have the static two shot of Pickering and Ricci standing next to each other where Ricci looks like she belongs in the same eighth grade class as Pickering. It’s an odd moment because while visually it is startling, Ricci plays that moment with the same aloof quality that she plays her character throughout the movie and it helps to add to the childlike beguilement that her character seems too possess. But man, I checked IMDB and no way can that be right, she has to be shorter than 5’1′, just has to be.

An area where Burton is always impressive is visually and in his ability to frame with his camera. Sleepy Hollow is no different, Burton uses his camera as a minor character in its own right. It’s never as alive as other movies, like say Reservoir Dogs, but his camera is always bringing the audience into something, acting as our eyes and ears. I know this may sound weird because the camera is technically always bringing the audience into the action. But, his camera in Sleepy Hollow doesn’t just bring us into the action, it inhabits the action along with the characters. Burton is just as impressive from an artistic standpoint, the shot of Ichabod Crane entering the village of Sleepy Hollow is certainly something to look at.

To continue with the framing thread, Sleepy Hollow has many scenes that are excellently framed and the overall story is framed excellently as well. The scene with the midwife’s death is brilliantly done and the best example of both visual and story framing. Visually, the lantern shapes give the scene tremendous atmosphere and a unique look. But, the true catch is her decapitated head rolling on the ground and looking eyes wide open under the floor boards at her son. Story wise this is framed excellently because it seamlessly leads into the Casper Van Dien fight scene and death that allow us to finally understand the actions of the Headless Horseman and why he is killing only certain people.

On the topic of the Headless Horseman, he is cool as both the Hessian and as the Headless Horseman. Christopher Walken was a nice choice to play the razor toothed Hessian while in his headless form he looks menacing and is wonderfully used. The Headless Horseman needs to remain a sort of mythic figure, he can’t be overused. His striking design and limited use allow him to always stay fresh in the viewers mind. It also helps when every death he delivers looks super cool.

Story wise, Sleepy Hollow is a film that never gets enough credit in my eyes. Every review I have ever read about Sleepy Hollow has praised the look of the film while bemoaning the story. This is one of the few times where Burton gets the story almost as down pat as his visuals. Sleepy Hollow isn’t a horror film, it is fantasy driven mystery. Sleepy Hollow isn’t meant to scare, it’s a well crafted mystery with many possible suspects that adds some supernatural spice to the mix.

That’s not to say that Sleepy Hollow is a perfect movie, because it does have its setbacks. The flashbacks to young Crane don’t flow well with the rest of the story. I understand their purpose, but they never seem to fit in. There is a story gaffe in the Headless Horseman going after Crane and Young Masbeth at the end, only Katrina has been marked so it is only she that the Horseman should be after. Finally, Lady Van Tassel’s speech to Katrina while they await the Horseman reeks too much of a villain of the week expository speech.

As I said, earlier, Sleepy Hollow is a home run for Tim Burton, just not out of the park. I would put this with his best work, and while I may need to watch Batman Returns again, and need to see Ed Wood period, I feel safe placing this at the top of his filmography. It isn’t a perfect film, but it is a well crafted story full of terrific atmosphere, a moody score, good acting and a menacing villain. Sleepy Hollow is the perfect fit for Tim Burton, and it shows.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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One response to “Review: Sleepy Hollow (1999)

  1. Pingback: Postulating & Pontificating: Horror Bonanza! | Bill's Movie Emporium

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