Whilst Tim Burton is far from being back to his winning form, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is at least a step in the right direction for a filmmaker who has always found comfort in showcasing the weird and wonderful. Though the film slightly feels like a fantasy cash-in, much in the way features like Eragon and The Golden Compass did in the wake of the Harry Potter films, Burton embraces the heightened sense of reality screenwriter Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass, Kingsman: The Secret Service) – working off Ransom Riggs’s novel – has adopted here, injecting a serious bout of camp into proceedings for good measure.
Despite a potentially convoluted storyline, Burton and co. have efficiently packed the film’s two-hour running time with a relatively streamlined plot that plays heavy on mythology. The titular “peculiars” are mostly children who live in a sprawling estate under the watchful eye of Miss Peregrine (Burton’s snappy muse Eva Green), a special breed of Peculiar herself who has the ability to transform into a bird and bend the constraints of time; the latter ability allowing her to create a time loop in the year 1943 where she and the children live in a groundhog day type situation, effectively rendering them immortal. I realise that sounds confusing but the film manages to make it seem perfectly coherent.
Just why the Peculiars come to be known is due to teenage outsider Jake (Asa Butterfield, tragically bland) and his grandfather Abe (Terrence Stamp), a Peculiar who left the time-loop to fight the Nazis in WW2. Growing up on Abe’s outlandish tales, Jake believed in the other-worldly characters his grandfather “created” so when he and his father (a horribly unappealing Chris O’Dowd) travel to a shadowy island to gain closure following Abe’s mysterious death, it doesn’t come as a massive surprise when he meets Miss Peregrine and her supernaturally gifted children.
Though the film drops a series of interesting nuggets in its initial stages, it isn’t until Green’s glorious Miss Peregrine is introduced that the film truly comes alive, and if you surrender to the ridiculousness Burton generates you could be in for a treat. It’s over-the-top – especially its climactic sequence involving animated corpses doing battle amongst the crowds of a carnival – and appropriately grotesque for a teenage-aimed Burton film but if it wasn’t for its casting the film would certainly flounder. Green is simply dynamic and the film benefits from her presence, making the finale where her character is unjustly sidelined even more tragic. Butterfield doesn’t yield to the Burton aesthetic, resulting in a stiff, pedestrian performance, and O’Dowd appears to be just going through the motions but thankfully Samuel L. Jackson’s unsubtle villain, Ella Purnell’s striking air-manipulator, and the hoard of fellow peculiar children are all so wonderfully vivid that they make up for their supporting cast’s downfalls.
The tone isn’t always consistent (though that seems to becoming a trademark of Burton nowadays) and the lack of Danny Elfman’s score is sorely felt, but Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children still stands as an enjoyable, visually pleasing affair that should provide as passable entertainment for those looking for something, well, peculiar.
Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is in cinemas now.