Miss Peregrine trades feeling for beauty
Movie | Dull characters flatten a visually sensational film
by Bob Brown
Posted 10/03/16, 02:08 pm
Director Tim Burton is known for telling quirky tales (Edward Scissorhands) full of mirth (Beetlejuice) and melancholy (Corpse Bride). That’s likely why his latest film, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (adapted from Ransom Riggs’ young-adult novel by the same name), opened in the No. 1 spot at the box office this past weekend. The film’s visually rich architecture lives up to the hype, but the characters’ emotional flatness dulls an otherwise entertaining journey.
As he is dying, Abe (Terence Stamp) reminds his grandson, Jake (Asa Butterfield), about a mysterious home in Wales that he visited during World War II. But Jake’s father, Frank (Chris O’Dowd), dismisses Abe’s tales of hideous creatures attacking the home’s children, explaining to Jake that Abe has confused imaginary monsters with real-life Nazi fiends.
Nevertheless, to lay to rest Jake’s obsession with the seeming fantasy, Frank takes him to Wales to investigate. There, while Frank bounces between bird-watching and boozing, Jake stumbles upon Miss Peregrine’s remote, castle-like residence. With her magical clock, Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) protects the peculiar children under her care by resetting each day to Sept. 3, 1943—living with them in a 24-hour time loop safe from menacing outside forces.
One boy in the home is invisible; a girl is stronger than 10 men. After Jake enters the time loop, he learns that he, too, possesses a special power. Miss Peregrine wants him to use his power to protect the children from faceless monsters called Hollows and from a group of evil Peculiars, led by Barron (Samuel L. Jackson), who jump from one time loop to another seeking to consume the eyes of children.
Besides fighting monsters, Jake grapples with the decision to return to his life in the present or to stay with the children. Anchored by lead boots because she’s lighter than air, beautiful Emma (Ella Purnell) presents Jake with the most compelling reason to stay. The years would quickly catch up to her if she were to exit the time loop with him.
The (appropriately restrained) spark between Jake and Emma marks the film’s only genuine relationship. Despite ample development early in the film, Jake’s bond with his grandfather and detachment from his father play out in sterile fashion. Barron’s ill-fitting humor displaces any sense of real peril. And the children’s peculiarities come across as little more than superficial gimmicks, not manifestations of, say, their individual personalities or status as societal outcasts.
In short, Burton builds extravagant sets, but he doesn’t fill them with engaging characters, peculiar or otherwise. One interesting twist and a brief-but-belated touch upon a theme of self-sacrifice don’t save the film’s last half-hour from becoming a garden-variety comic-book finale.
Too frightening for young children, the film (rated PG-13 for intense sequences of fantasy, action, violence, and peril) will likely disappoint viewers hoping for—as the title seems to promise—a more peculiar story.
Bob is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute’s mid-career course.