Tim Burton delves into peculiar territory for an adaptation of Ransom Riggs' YA novel Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.
Once known for wildly original dark fantasies like Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice, Tim Burton's career has coasted in recent times through a string of regurgitated remakes; from 2001's Planet of the Apes to 2005's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the nadir of it all, 2010's Alice in Wonderland.
There has been a sprinkling of success in the meantime; 2014's Big Eyes earned Amy Adams a Golden Globe and Sweeney Todd melded horror, comedy and musical into a weird and wonderfully gruesome affair. So at which end of the spectrum does his new movie, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, sit?
Well, it isn't that simple. Awkwardly, it rests somewhere in the middle of Burton's filmography - it's not the raging dumpster fire that is Alice in Wonderland but neither is it a soaring return to his magical early stuff. Simply put, Miss Peregrine is a mixed bag that shows blinks of promise all the while trudging through a murky bog of mediocrity.
The film is adapted from a YA novel about a young boy named Jake (Asa Butterfield); Jake lives a sorry existence in Florida with his disinterested parents (Chris O'Dowd and Kim Dickens), so instead Jake gravitates towards his grandpa, Abe (Terence Stamp). Abe has filled Jake's brain with wild tales of a magical children's home in Wales were he spent his formative years, so when he is struck down in mysterious circumstances, Jake and his dad travel across the pond to uncover the truth about Abe's past.
It's here that Jake meets Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) and her group of 'peculiar' students. Living in a time loop that separates them from the outside world, Miss Peregrine and the kids never age and only have each other for company - that is until Jake arrives and unwittingly brings danger and death with him in the form of the evil Barron (Samuel L. Jackson).
The shortcomings in this movie definitely don't lie with the visuals or Burton's distinctive art design; this is some of his best and most memorable work in that department since Sweeney Todd or the maligned but still decadently decorated Dark Shadows. One scene in which we see the origin of Jackson's villain is achingly gorgeous and bursting with character; the children's home itself is also dripping with flavour and all the eccentricities that fans of Burton have come to expect.
No, the real issue with Miss Peregrine is the narrative and how meandering most of the second act is. You see, we're dealt a lot of exposition about the world and how it works - terms like 'hollowgasts' and 'ymbryne' are thrown around a lot and Green spends 90% of her screen time giving Butterfield a guided tour of the house and showing him old photographs that fill in the blanks. Butterfield's character is as bland as they come, an unblemished blank slate that only exists to ask questions and receive answers. So while Green's performance is decidedly fun and ostentatious, Butterfield doesn't get anything to work with and comes across poorly. O'Dowd is utterly miscast too and his American accent leaves a lot to be desired.
The other kids are okay, I guess. Ella Purnell plays Emma, a girl who can control air and needs special shoes to keep her anchored to the ground. She kind of gets relegated to generic love interest during the film whilst other characters like Enoch (Finlay MacMillan) and Olive (Lauren McCrostie) are either stuck with being cookie-cutter characters like 'jealous bully' or literally nothing at all. Seriously. Aside from listing her
When all this explaining is done, we're treated to a sumptuously silly third act that sees the film find a new gear. It's not everyday that you get to see a skeleton army doing battle with giant tentacle monsters in a snowy amusement park. It's an utterly barmy, Harryhausen inspired series of events that almost saves the picture from itself. When Burton gets to let loose, the film flies; if you ask me, the time travel, monsters and weirdness is totally undersold in the marketing.
Unfortunately, the film doesn't play to its strengths and is hamstrung by a creaky screenplay that is poorly paced. Elements like Jackson, Green and Burton's imagination provide some solace, but a bland protagonist, soppy love story and a hand-wavy, sequel-baiting conclusion make this a muddled misfire that could've been so much more.
The Verdict: 5.5/10
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is a vivid mishmash of Harry Potter, X-Men and American Horror Story. However, a lot of tell and not a lot of show hinders an otherwise interesting premise that was undersold in the trailers. Jackson and Green are the only people having a shred of fun and the loopy time travel stuff isn't used enough.
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is in cinemas across Australia now