With a strong visual aesthetic and a massive cult following, Tim Burton’s career is filled with some of the greatest films of all time, and from Edward Scissorhands to Beetlejuice his characters always seem to make an impact. Of course, that’s his early career, with many of his latest films (Dark Shadows, Alice in Wonderland) failing to make their mark in one way or another. His latest film seems to check all the boxes of what we’ve come to expect from the master of the gothic, but which way does it fall?
Based on the book by Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children follows Florida teen Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield) who, after the mysterious death of his grandfather, travels to a remote island off Wales in search of a children’s home where his grandfather lived during the war. After befriending the powerful children who live there, accompanied by their caretaker Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), Jake and the children must work quickly to solve a dangerous mystery that spans across time and threatens others like them.
Like any Tim Burton movie, the film’s art and production is perfectly quirky, a pre-war gothic wonderland set during the war that strikingly conveys the film’s time-bending ideas. But more than just the Tim Burton aesthetic, the film is also true to the visuals from Riggs’ book, which uses odd and unexplainable photos from the pre-war era to construct the narrative of specially-powered children living in a home. From the lead shoes worn by Emma Bloom (Ella Purnell) that stop her from floating away (her special power being air) to a delightfully creepy puppet war orchestrated by the home’s resident bad boy Enoch (Finlay MacMillan), faceless monsters and bowls of eyeballs, Burton and Riggs seem cut from the same cloth as their gothic spectacle unfolds.
And yet, the unfolding of the film is where it hits its turbulence. Despite its two hour run time, it barely feels as though anything happens; the dense mythology of the film results in an overly long first half full of exposition and explanation, so by the time we reach what should be the final climax, there’s been barely any action to lead us in. Adaptations are always tricky, and Miss Peregrine’s seems to have much cut out of it, with emotional relationships between characters and more action missing that would otherwise even out the tone of the film more effectively. There are some fascinating ideas and elements to this film – the idea of time loops (existing in the same time forever), the children’s powers, the history both embedded in it and created around it – but what needed to be handled more deftly at times just became confusing and sometimes convoluted.
What does help us through the throes of this film, however, is Eva Green as the titular Miss Peregrine; strict but caring, she carries the tension of the film wonderfully, looking spectacularly gothic as she does it. Her affection for the children she cares for carries the younger actor’s performances; unfortunately, the teenage actors do fall a little flat. Though he’s one of the most talented up-and-comers, Asa Butterfield doesn’t quite bring the emotion to this outing, and his chemistry with Purnell’s Emma seems underdeveloped; she isn’t bad, however, just not supported well. And Samuel L. Jacksons villainous Barron is a mixed bag; in some scenes he’s incredibly creepy, others he comes off goofy, his crazy-haired costuming not doing him any favours.
On the floor of some cutting room, somewhere, is a better, longer version of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, which hits all the right notes. Emotional tension, developed relationships, better action… It’s just not this version. When it’s good, it’s good – some of the performances are brilliant, with great ideas and some amazing visuals – but too much exposition and an iffy tone stopped it from being great. But hey; maybe keep an eye out for the eventual extended version.
And now, here’s my list of my five favourite films starring the cast of Miss Peregrine’s:
- The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – Asa Butterfield
- Kingsman: the Secret Service – Samuel L. Jackson
- Bridesmaids – Chris O’Dowd
- The Help – Alison Janney
- Captain America: the Winter Soldier – Samuel L. Jackson
Photos taken from IMDb.com: