Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children: Film Review
Cast: Asa Butterfield, Terence Stamp, Eva Green, Samuel L Jackson, Chris O'Dowd, Ella Purnell
Director: Tim Burton
It should in theory work, as it has all the kooky elements of a Tim Burton caper – unusual kids, an unusual setting and some spooky bad guys.
But Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is mired in a lengthy set-up that takes forever to tie all its ends together and even get started, crippling it for the first hour.
For those unfamiliar with American author Ransom Riggs’ number 1 best selling novel and its Harry Potter-esque trappings, it’s the story of Jake (Enders’ Game Asa Butterfield who brings a degree of intensity even if his character is saddled with exposition) who heads to Wales after the grotesque death of his grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp).
Jake was close with his Grandpa, who used to regale him with night-time stories of the oddball children who’d live at a school under the watch of Eva Green’s Miss Peregrine. Believing the stories to be true, Jake stumbles into their world in Wales and marvels at the peculiarity of it all.
But what initially appears to be dream-like soon turns into a nightmare with something stalking the children and their charge to carry out a terrifying scheme…
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children mixes the macabre and the Burton vibe with a degree of visual aplomb as the allegory for Jewish persecution and child alienation is brought to the fore.
There’s eccentricity all over the place but thanks to a disjointed flow and some middling acting from some of the younger charges under Burton’s watch, the piece never quite achieves the levels of quirkiness it’s aspiring to.
Samuel L Jackson gives good scenery-chewing as the ultimate bad guy menacing the kids, Eva Green is barely there as the slightly plummy, stuffily British toothy pipe-smoking schoolmarm (Scary Poppins, anyone?) and Butterfield manages the awkward emotions of Jack quite well and is fine, but nothing more; it never fully gels in the way it should on the human front, thanks to a convoluted plot and a muddled attempt to get there.
Even Burton’s touches on this feel muted, almost as if a darker approach proved a little too out there for the audience it was aiming for.
It’s a shame the Beetlejuice vibe is played down as the Gothic gallows humour that appears in places is a welcome touch, and the more comic touches add to an air of oddity that's crying out to be set free, but which withers under such underwritten side characters.
Nowhere is this more evident than a brilliant showdown on Blackpool’s pier (of all places) with animated skeletons taking on stretched Slender-men style shadow creatures. It’s inventive, meshed with touches of both Burton and Harryhausen as the bony bodies bounce manically around. (A similar stop-motion scene with two doll puppets, a la Toy Story spider-babies, fighting to do the death is equally as welcome.)
It’s certainly dark, and the more nightmarish touches may explain why Burton had to reign it in for a more Addams Family vibe (but without the jokes) and an ongoing gag about why Florida is so horrific to so many.
The darker touches work well too – the inherent sadness of the war, the displacement of children, mental health problems and parents summarily dismissal of their child's illness, the impressive visuals as the Nazi bombs drop towards the house, the persecution of Jews by human monsters, they all lurk below the surface, but never fully bubble upto the top, almost as if there are fears the audience wouldn’t engage.
Ostensibly lashed with timey-wimey sensibilities and more confusing moments, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a fascinating could have been movie from Burton; the offbeat touches meshing with the more gruesome edges to form a queasy cinematic experience that frustrates rather than thrills. It could have done with more of its danse macabre ethos, and a little more ooky rather than just kooky to ensure this children's home is one you'd want to check into again.