Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, 2016.
Directed by Tim Burton.
Starring Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Ella Purnell, Chris O’Dowd, Allison Janney, Terence Stamp, Kim Dickens, Rupert Everett, Judi Dench and Samuel L. Jackson.
Following a family tragedy, lonely teenager Jake decides to travel to Wales in order to search for answers that his grandfather has told him can be found at Miss Peregrine’s children’s home.
Welcome to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and possibly one of the most – superficially, at least – perfect partnerships in film of the past few years: that of director Tim Burton and source material author Ransom Riggs. Stuffed with odd-ball occurrences, period splendour, spindly villains and his usual gothic flair, Miss Peregrine is a Burton-stamped production from the very beginning, even with the story beginning in the exotic climes of Florida.
Jake (the eminently watchable Butterfield) is a typical withdrawn and gawky awkward teenage boy until the day he finds his grandfather’s eyeless body in the trees behind his house and begins to discover his sense for the shadowy supernatural. Following his grandfather’s dying request, he sets off on a trip to Wales with his nonplussed father (Chris O’Dowd, making the most of a fairly thankless role) to seek out Miss Peregrine’s children’s home for answers, where his grandfather spent his childhood in the 1940s. Things are not as they first appear on the remote and rain swept island, and when Jake finally encounters the group of ‘peculiars’, he is able to begin to make sense of his place in their world.
There’s a sense of naughty playfulness to the film’s tone, appealing to adults, as its humour relies on knowingly undercutting any established atmosphere in a self-deprecating way. This tendency only adds further to the odd-beat nature of the film. With a clutch of children as its focus, however, things remain whimsical enough to appeal to that demographic, although Burton does not hold back on the scariness – and anyone at all squeamish about eyeballs should be warned.
In some ways, it’s the perfect introduction Tim Burton for younger audience members already comfortable with the ghoulish. In others, the film seems to slightly stifle his creative flair as he is working within someone else’s already-established world. Burton does best when he is allowed to roam free, either with his own story ideas, as in The Nightmare Before Christmas and Edward Scissorhands, or with the blank canvas of another’s original idea for a film, such as Beetlejuice. This is not to say that Burton cannot cope with adaptations – his Sleepy Hollow and Sweeney Todd were certainly well crafted and received – but in both cases, the story was well-known and had its roots in the early nineteenth century (one of Burton’s favourite places to hang out). Ransom Riggs’s Miss Peregrine was only published in 2011. Somehow this seems to get in the way of allowing this film to be seen as a ‘classic’ Tim Burton production.
As with many book-to-screen adaptations – this time by Jane Goldman – the plot swings between being a bit convoluted, as the world of peculiars and loops is introduced, and suspiciously convenient by the film’s dramatic battle denouement. It also treads well-worn paths, with a potential chaste romance set up for Jake almost immediately upon his entrance to Miss Peregrine’s children’s home, and an oversight on our hero’s part that leads the villain (Samuel L. Jackson) – quite literally – to his prey.
Samuel L. Jackson is clearly having a great time as villain Barron, leader of an army of sinister Hollowgasts with a voracious appetite for peculiar flesh. He gnashes his pointed teeth with glee, delivering the majority of his lines as great proclamations, just itching to be quashed, but still remains the right side of pantomime. As the titular Miss Peregrine, Eva Green is impeccably cast to play Eva Green, with her usual mix of teasing charm and edge of dangerous foreboding. Her faintly Nordic-tinged tone and (French) articulation does leave the odd world imprecisely delivered – challenging in a world with its own vocabulary – but that’s only a small quibble.
Other adults in the cast include a wasted Judi Dench in a cameo role and a slightly vacant Terence Stamp as Jake’s beloved grandfather, but the film truly belongs to the cast of children and young adults – as it should do. Each of the children appears entirely at home in their character, although some benefit from more screen time than others (and God bless the kids debuting as the invisible Millard and the masked twins). Particularly charming are Pixie Davies as Bronwyn and Milo Parker as Hugh, but it is Asa Butterfield who has ‘Tim Burton’ written all over him – he is positively Jack Skellington-esque with his long limbs and striking eyes – and always remains a likeable underdog rather than edging towards self-pitying teenager.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children makes for a great Tim Burton-lite movie, and although he may have been somewhat trapped in another’s universe, he does not skimp on his signature flair and scares.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★