Tim Burton’s latest film finds him on familiar ground. Based on the 2011 bestseller Ransom Riggs’s bestselling young adult novel Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, the movie of the same name has a complex mythology, time travel and “Hollows”, former human beings whose attempts to become immortal have turned them into monsters. Screenwriter Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class) finds it difficult to bring these themes together into a cohesive whole. The narrative, at times incoherent, takes quite some time to get going.
Jacob (Asa Butterfield) doesn’t have much in common with people around him except his grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp), who regales him with fantastic stories of a place called Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, a kind of Professor Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters from X-Men. While Abe manages to convince Jacob that the stories about children with special powers, such as the ability to fly or become invisible, and the monsters that attack them, are real, Jacob’s parents are worried at the influence the old man has on their son.
The situation takes a turn for the worse when Jacob comes home to find his grandfather attacked and the house in disarray. Dogs did the deed in the official version, although Abe tells Jacob, “the bird, the loop and September 3, 1943” are responsible. Jacob ends up seeking out the actual home for peculiar children, which is located in Wales and run by Miss Peregrine (Eva Green).
Miss Peregrine’s Home is stuck in a time loop. No one there ages. The children have stayed the same for close to a century. Every day, the same one in 1943, resets just as a bomb is dropped by German planes. Meanwhile, Hollows are on the lookout for a way into the Home so they can get the children’s eyes and retain a semblance of humanity. It is into this world sealed off from reality that Jacob finally finds acceptance and a sense of purpose.
There is the usual Burtonesque detailing of sets and locations. The superb cinematography of the Welsh countryside by Bruno Delbonnel brings a great sense of mood to the film. There are all too brief cameos by thespians Judi Dench and Rupert Everett, and Eva Green and Samuel L Jackson seem to be enjoying themselves. Jackson seems to particularly have fun chewing the scenery as Baron, the antagonist. The best part, both for the way it is staged and its cathartic nature, comes at the battle in the end when a group of reanimated skeletons take on the Hollows in a London fairground set to dance music.
Over the last few years, it has felt like there are two Tim Burtons at work. There is the intensely personal director of Frankenweenie (2012) and the for-hire filmmaker that lends a suitable Gothic touch to films like Alice in Wonderland (2010). Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children falls somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. It has a sufficient amount of genre pleasures, with gorgeously detailed locations and scary monsters, but the narrative is confused, at times impersonal, and does not justify its 127-minute running time.