In recent years, Tim Burton has taken his distinguishable style and fondness for the strange, cranked each all the way up to eleven, and made a string of films that have felt like self-parody. By comparison, his latest, an adaptation of the best-selling Ransom Riggs novel, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, is his most restrained film (Big Eyes excluded) in over a decade, and, in turn, his best film since 1999’s Sleepy Hollow.
Best described as a neo-gothic take on the X-Men, Burton’s attraction to the source material is no surprise whatsoever. Asa Butterfield plays Jake, an ordinary teenager from Florida, who’s sent on a mysterious quest to Wales by his Grandfather. There, in a quiet costal town, he discovers the titular home for peculiar children, a place which houses young people with various special abilities (invisibility, super-strength, flight etc) and which is permanently hidden in 1943.
Written by Jane Goldman – a writer I admire very much after her work on The Woman in Black and Kick-Ass – Burton seems to hold back on the hyper-visuals so as not to detract from Goldman’s marvellous storytelling. With a central mystery that is allowed to unfold slowly without having to worry about getting to the next action sequence, a large part of the film’s enjoyment comes from discovering the characters and secrets of ‘Miss Peregrine’s’.
There’s nothing here that could be quite compared to the magic of seeing Hogwarts for the first time, but there’s just enough imagination on show to keep even the most cynical audience member engaged and enthralled in the story. This is largely because of the writer/director combination of Goldman and Burton, whose separate visions work in perfect unison; but it’s the peformances – Eva Green is underused, but the rest of the cast are perfect – that end up increasing your investment in the plot.
Surprisingly, it’s when the film becomes more action orientated that it begins to suffer. In its louder moments, when the creatures known as Hollows (led by Samuel L. Jackson’s Barron) come on the scene to eat the peculiar’s eyes, the story does descend into a series of lacklustre battles between the two factions; which is made all the more worse with Jackson’s scene-chewing turn as a villain that’s made less and less terrifying with each joke he makes.
Undoubtedly flawed but still plenty of fun, there’s lots to admire about ‘Miss Peregrine’s’. It never plays down to its audience, unafraid of adding some truly terrifying, eye-chewing sequences of horror, and expecting its audience, both young and old, to keep up with the time-travelling intricacies of the story. Somewhat let down by its ending however, the film itself isn’t as exciting as the prospect of future films. With two other books to adapt, this certainly has all the potential for further adventures with the peculiar children, and, at this stage, I’d definitely be willing to go along with them.
Image credit to http://www.impawards.com