Release date: 30th September 2016/Watch the trailer here
The trailer for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, based on the novel of the same name by Ransom Riggs, includes the phrase ‘from visionary director Tim Burton’. It’s a worthy title, but one that Burton hasn’t quite managed to live up to recently; his films veering away from dark, quirky tales of misunderstood individuals and more into straight-up wacky territory. Thankfully, in Miss Peregrine Burton has found the perfect source material, a tale of a boy (misunderstood loner character, check) who ventures to a remote Welsh island following a family tragedy to find the children’s home that his grandfather told him stories of as a child.
It’s not just the loner teenage main character, Jake (Asa Butterfield), that sings of Burton – the novel contains vintage photographs of ‘peculiar children’ weaved amongst the text, each one creepy, unsettling, and the exact sort of image that surely drew in Tim Burton like a moth to a flame.
As it turns out, the orphanage is home to children with ‘peculiarities’ – among them is Emma (Ella Purnell), who must wear shoes made of lead to stop her from floating away; Millard (Cameron King), who’s invisible; and Olive (Lauren McCrostie), who can control fire – and run by the pipe-smoking Miss Peregrine (Eva Green). Miss Peregrine explains to Jake that she is an Ymbryne: a kind of peculiar that can change into a bird and create a time loop for their children to live within.
Unfortunately, the above is just a small portion of the intricacies of Miss Peregrine‘s plot, and while it makes enough sense to get by, there is a claustrophobic feel of an attempt to cram multiple books’ worth of information within one two-hour film. Thankfully, Burton has assembled a capable cast to handle the film’s heavy exposition with a straight face, with not one Burton regular to be seen (although Eva Green did star in 2012’s best-forgotten Dark Shadows). Green in particular gives a magnetic performance as Miss Peregrine, while Samuel L. Jackson entertainingly hams it up as the villainous Barron, a monster barely hanging on to his humanity and hungry for the eyes of peculiar children.
Yes, you read that correctly – the monstrous hollowgasts (brought to creepy, Slender Man-esque life by Burton) require the eyes of peculiars to return to their human form. One of the most obviously Tim Burton scenes of the film features the tentacled hollowgasts feasting on eyeballs (closely followed on the Burton-ometer by a stop-motion sequence of grotesque puppets fighting).
These dark eccentricities and the promise of mystery and adventure are enough for the first half of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children to get by, but it sadly starts to fall apart by the final act. The idea of an action sequence – peculiar children v. monsters – that takes place on a Blackpool pier is a fantastic one, but the end result not only feels entirely out of place in a Tim Burton film, but in the film as a whole, too. It feels a little as though Burton remembered halfway-through that he was supposed to be making a family film, and everything was starting to get a little disturbing and dark, so he thought he’d lighten things up with some bad CGI and dance music.
Aside from those final thirty minutes, though, Miss Peregrine is easily the best Tim Burton film since Sweeney Todd, and one of the better non-musical films he’s made since the ’90s. The source material that was surely always intended for Burton has given him the opportunity to revisit not only some of the themes from his older films, but also Burton’s own distinct peculiarities that had been absent from his work for some time now.