Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)
Starring Asa Butterfield, Eva Green, Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by Tim Burton
Don’t get me wrong, I love Tim Burton, but he seems to have made Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children on an off day. Sure it doesn’t have Johnny Depp or Helena Bonham Carter, but it has his usually collection of oddball, outcast characters, including a shy, introverted protagonist who yearns for there to be more magic in the dull, mundane world in which he lives. The nightmarish creatures which usually feature in Burton’s work also show up, and it even has a Danny Elfman score that this time wasn’t composed by Danny Elfman. It’s just that that it all feels so, well, it feels like his heart isn’t in it. It’s as if Fox just presented him with the novel by Ransom Riggs and promised him big bucks if he delivered them what most people think of as a genetic Tim Burton movie.
So anyway, Asa Butterfield is Jake Portman, a Florida teen who tries to solve his grandfather’s mysterious death, which eventually leads him to an isolated Welsh island. Thick Welsh accents are seldom heard in big Hollywood films, so kudos to them for that I guess. Here he encounters a school for kids with special abilities called Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, which is totally not Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. They exist within some kind of Groundhog Day-style time loop, which causes them to repeat the same day over and over again with no end. This also means that they have to repeat daily chores, like helping a baby squirrel find its way back into a tree, for the rest of eternity. Because fuck growing old.
Samuel L. Jackson also wants to eat the kid’s eyeballs so that he himself can become immortal or something. I guess I should remind you that there’s a villain because the film seems to forget until towards the end.
Butterfield does a good job as the misplaced Florida teen who finds himself as something of a fish out of water in the period setting, but therein lies the film’s biggest weakness: almost the entire plot is told through him asking questions. You know that the golden rule of script writing is to show and not tell? Well, clearly nobody told that to our writer Jane Goldman. If you want to get an idea of what I’m talking about, imagine if Star Wars had consisted entirely of Luke asking Obi-Wan what it’s like to fly a straighter and wield a light saber rather than actually experiencing them for himself.
Although the film clearly has an obsession with exposition, a ton of things still remain unexplained. Chris O’Dowd shows up as Jake’s father, who disappears in the third act without so much as a mention. This is despite the fact that earlier on it was established that he was overly worried when his son went missing for a day, so you’d think that he would have at least tried to find Jake when he vanishes for a prolonged period of time. And despite the fact that we know that each of the kids have their own special powers, we learn very little about most of them as individuals. Some of them never even talk and wear masks whenever they’re onscreen, for Christ’s sake. But who needs characterization when you have a girl with a mouth at the back of her head, eh? Just show some people being grossed out by the way that she eats a chicken leg and you’re done for the day.
Probably the biggest question of all is why the hell are the titular Miss Peregrine, played by Eva Green, and the kids so content to live the same day in the same place over and over again instead of actually going out and living their lives? I mean, the concept of Heaven is flawed in itself, because why would anyone want to exist for eternity? Even if they are experiencing eternal bliss, they’re bound to get bored and want it to end at some point. But here they want to experience the same day over and over again for the rest of eternity? What gives?
Despite having a $110 million budget, we only get one truly grand set piece in the form of a battle between monsters and skeletons. I guess they must have spent the rest of the cash on that damn giant carrot (yeah, it’s in the film). Believe me, this rarely feels like a genuine cinematic experience, unless endless explanations of the intricacies of time travel are your idea of a good time. You probably need multiple viewings to fully grasp what was going on, but I seriously don’t think I could sit through this a second time.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is certainly a peculiar film in every sense of the word, and unfortunately I really don’t mean that as a compliment. Come to think of it though, it does have one strong perk. I mean, where else are you gonna see Judi Dench being eaten by a giant monster?