Main cast: Eva Green (Alma LeFay Peregrine), Asa Butterfield (Jacob Portman), Ella Purnell (Emma Bloom), Chris O’Dowd (Franklin Portman), Terence Stamp (Abraham Portman), Finlay MacMillan (Enoch O’Connor), Lauren McCrostie (Olive Abroholos Elephanta), Judi Dench (Esmeralda Avocet), and Samuel L Jackson (Mr Barron)
Director: Tim Burton
I’m not sure what happened to Tim Burton, but his movies are becoming more and more like soulless sideshows – nice to look at, but completely forgettable at the end of the day. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is almost stereotypically made for him, as it provides ample opportunities for him to apply his charming brand of eccentricity to a whimsical, fantastical script. Alas, none of what made a Tim Burton-directed movie so much fun in the past is present here. This is a soulless, formulaic young adult fantasy flick full of CGI in place of a coherent story, designed to be easily digested and excreted along with the popcorn and Diet Coke.
This movie is about this brat, Jacob Portman, whose parents treat him with near-criminal neglect. Let’s say that the adults tolerate him as long as he does not get in the way of their own plans and schedules. He is closest to his grandfather Abraham, and he is also the only one who cares for Abe when Abe seems to be slipping deeper into dementia. Meanwhile, Jake lives the life of a dork, unpopular with the kids his age and generally walking around with a pout on his face.
Then, one evening, Jake gets a call that Abe is acting up. He rushes to the man’s home to find the place ransacked and, worst of all, Abe’s corpse a distance out there in swamp, his eyes missing from their sockets. Eventually, the cops decide that Abe was attacked by wild dogs, and Jake comes to accept that. But he still feels despondent and melancholic, remembering how Abe used to tell him fantastical stories of growing up in a home full of kids with remarkable abilities. When he eventually find an address to this home, he wants to visit that place. His shrink agrees, forcing Jake’s reluctant father to bring Jake to this island in Wales.
As you can guess, Jake soon discovers that Abe’s stories are true. There are people with magical abilities, called “peculiar” people. Mostly children, they are cared for by gifted headmistresses called Ymbrynes. The Ymbrynes have the ability to shift into a bird form and, more importantly, manipulate time. Hence, for this particular home that Jake stumbles onto, the headmistress Miss Alma Peregrine protects her charges by not only keeping them safe in an isolated place, she also keeps them in a time loop – repeating the same day again and again using her magical stopwatch – so that her charges will live not only safe lives but also lead routines that are predictable and, hence, safe.
Jake learns that Abe was one of these children, and Abe’s gift is to be able to see invisible creatures. This is important because there is a bunch of renegade peculiars, led by Mr Barron, who believe that they should rule the world instead of hiding away in time loops. An experiment that requires taking the life of a Ymbrynes caused Barron and his buddies to transform into invisible, tall Daddy long-legs-like humanoid beings with tentacles from their maws. Barron eventually discovered that eating a certain numbers of eyes of a peculiar, especially a child peculiar, can help him regain his former form back again permanently, hence, these hollowgasts, as they are called, have been targeting homes of peculiar children ever since. Abe took it upon himself to travel the world, hunting down these ghasts and protecting the peculiars, since only he could see them,
Jake identifies Barron, from a photo, as the man whom he saw that day when Abe was killed. Recalling how the cows on the island were killed shortly after his arrival, he realizes that Barron could very well be close to this home, and the peculiars are no longer safe. Can he man up and help these kids? Will he lose his virginity to sweet Emma, the girl whose ability makes her lighter than air and hence, she needs to wear lead shoes to keep her grounded? Emma had a thing for Abe too before Abe went away, and no, this “I want to sleep with the girl my grandpa had the hots for” is not creepy at all, no indeed. I mean, Abe certainly approves of Jake and Emma in the end, so yay.
There is something depressing about these peculiar kids stuck being kids forever, going through the same daily routine again and again, and in the case of poor Victor, being killed by a hollowghast every day, but the movie never addresses whether this is a good or bad thing. Alma just brushes the whole thing away as being the best option for everyone, and that’s all there is to that matter. A pity, as I feel that expounding on this matter would have allowed the movie to be more interesting. At the very least, it would make Alma and Barron more than the one-dimensional black and white “good” and “bad” types they currently are.
Poor Asa Butterfield. Such movies often require the male lead to be a complete tree stump – as sexually non-threatening as possible to appeal to young kids and their moms – and hence, he is cast no doubt because he is the most milquetoast of the kids that auditioned for the role. Furthermore, Jake has to be clueless so that other characters that explain everything to him, so poor Mr Butterfield spends almost the entire movie with a stone-faced expression. The script gives him the worst lines in the movie – my favorite is him screaming “Watch out!” to Alma as she takes steady aim at a monster, and Emma has to shush him and tell him not to distract Alma – and makes his character look as smart as a brick. Worse, Jake is also useless aside from his ability to see invisible monsters, as he can’t aim for peanuts and while other kids are fighting, he spends way too much time wringing his hands at the Ymbrynes trapped in a cage before finally realizing that the button to press is just over there. This stupidity is understandable, as Jake is just a store bag boy and high school loser before he discovers that he is a peculiar, but it does make that character a most thankless role to play.
Furthermore, there’s something really cringe-worthy in how the script heavy-handedly wants me to feel for Jake. Hence, Jake spends the first half of the movie telling everyone who will listen that he is “not special”. And when he learns that he is very “special”, he then changes his broken record to how he is not Abe. He learns by the end that, despite not really doing any significant heavy lifting to save the day, he is indeed special and just like Abe, so yay, he can finally get to lose his virginity to a hot chick who likes to parade around in wet underwear in their secret hideout, and whose special gifts will let him get a free view of what is under her skirts every time… plus she can hold her breath for a long, long time! And blows like a Hoover – literally! And, and… something tells me the author of the book this movie is based on, as well as the script writers, are all high-fiving themselves for being so subtle.
At the end of the day, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is more of a montage of scenes than a coherent movie. There is no context as to why the home operates the way it does, why their plans have to go this or that way when they could have just used the gorgon twins to petrify Barron and his friends into stone from the get go, nothing. The characters are all superficial sorts, showing up only to strike a pose. Things just happen here, and I’m supposed to just sit back, don’t think, and just watch and munch on popcorns. I can do that, but I always thought I could expect more from Tim Burton, sigh.
Oh, and this movie is pretty violent, if you must know. While there is no blood gushing all over the place, there is plenty of decapitation to go around, and we have scenes like little girls throwing a spike through a monster’s heart. I personally like this, but parents with children who are easily frightened may want to reconsider showing this one to those kids!