Tim Burton returns with Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children, a new movie based on Ransom Riggs' popular Young Adult novel. The plot, which involves monsters, bizarre teenagers, suburbia and time travel certainly seemed like an ideal vehicle for the director.
Asa Butterfield is Jake, an ordinary suburban kid who, one night, finds his grandfather (played by Terrence Stamp) dying with both his eyes missing. Following the path outlined by the late old man's bedtime stories, Jake travels to Wales with his father where, supposedly, he would find the school for oddball children he'd heard so much about. Initially disappointed by what he finds, he eventually stumbles upon one of the students who leads him to the school which happens to be purposely stuck in a time loop. Jake meets the rest of the pupils including an invisible boy, a girl who can float, a kid who spits out bees and a super-strong little girl, among others. It's easy to see why Burton would be keen on this adaptation since its characters could have easily been some of his own, like the strange bunch from his own poetry book The Melancholy Death Of Oyster Boy.
The film deals with themes explored by the director before but with more of an X-Men meets Harry Potter type of vibe. This is both Tim Burton's safest yet darkest movie in a while as the imagery throughout is pretty disturbing and will no doubt scare the pants off younger viewers. Samuel L. Jackson steals the show as the main antagonist Mr Barron, a disguised monster with sharp teeth and various abilities. He's the leader of the Wights and Hollows, in other words evil "peculiars" and eyeball-eating creatures. Visually, Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children is a treat: the special effects look great, there's some clever use of stop-motion in places and it manages to be both colourful yet also sinister. The cast is mostly solid with Eva Green on top form as the pipe-smoking Miss Peregrine (a kind of goth Mary Poppins) and a good bunch of child actors with the reliable likes of Chris O'Dowd, Rupert Everett and Judi Dench in supporting roles.
Unfortunately, this is one needlessly convoluted film and, by the time you get to the Blackpool loop, it's unlikely you'll be 100% clear about what's going on unless you know the book well. No scene or line of dialog is really wasted, there's just so much information to convey about all the characters and this whole loop concept that, although the film is already exposition-heavy as it is, it still feels like its explanations are rushed somehow. Maybe this is one that would benefit from repeat viewings? There are also lapses in logic as the peculiar kids only use their powers when the plot demands it when they could have probably come in handy much earlier. That said, Burton makes good use of most of those goofy powers. Mr Barron and the other ghoulish baddies also don't make much sense as their motivations are all over the place. As for Asa Butterfield, he is far too bland as Jake: his performance being a very distracting weak link in a movie that's otherwise rather good acting-wise.
This is definitely a messier film than you'd expect and Burton probably should have looked into creating his own superhero monster kids' movie rather than adapt something maybe best suited for a novel. It is a wild and creative story, though, and you'll definitely find things to enjoy here but this is more Dark Shadows than Edward Scissorhands, I'm afraid.
Slick and scary yet uneven.