Movie Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
By Matthew Huntley
October 10, 2016
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is the type of fantasy tale any production designer, art director or costume designer could really sink their teeth into. With its supernatural elements, multiple eras and locations, and colorful characters, I imagine the head of each department was thinking, “Just think of all the possibilities,” before hitting the ground and running. Indeed, the movie's look and feel are busting and nearly coming apart at the seams, as there's so much happening on screen at any given time.
So much, except, an original and worthwhile story. In an age of countless Harry Potter and superhero films (the X-Men series specifically comes to mind), when it's practically inevitable for any avid moviegoer to at least know about these franchises, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children essentially recycles their characteristics, perhaps as a means to emulate their success or gain members of their fan bases.
But unlike Harry Potter, or the best of the X-Men films, Peregrine races along with a sort of nervous energy that it feels like it's in a rush, despite running over two hours. It doesn't take enough time out to pause and examine the characters or their situations beyond the requirements of the plot. Director Tim Burton probably felt that because his team built such a strong visual canopy, it didn't matter so much what was happening underneath it, and while the resulting experience isn't altogether empty, it's not as dramatic or memorable as it should have been.
To further illustrate the parallels between this movie and Harry Potter, it too follows an adolescent boy who's unaware of his true abilities, and as so many stories of this nature often go, dire circumstances will force him to finally realize them. The boy's name is Jacob (Asa Butterfield, in a rather stiff, unenthusiastic performance), and up until recently, he's considered himself a below average 16-year-old who'd go on living an uneventful life in Florida without making much of an impact on the world around him.
But greater responsibilities are suddenly thrust upon him after his Grandpa Abraham (Terence Stamp), who suffers from dementia, wanders into the woods and is killed by a humanoid monster with fangs for teeth and tentacles for tongues. This creature is called a hollowgast, and we come to learn that only Jacob and his grandfather can see them. Just before he dies, Abraham tells Jacob, “Find the bird. In the loop. On the other side of the old man's grave. September third, 1940.” These cryptic instructions fit in among the stories Abraham used to tell Jacob when he was a little boy, about how Abraham grew up in a mystical orphanage on Cairnholm Island in Wales, run by the maternal Miss Peregrine (Evan Green).
When Jacob describes his grandfather's gruesome and untimely death to his parents (Chris O'Dowd and Kim Dickens), they send him to a psychiatrist, Dr. Golan (Allison Janney), who suggests he actually visit Cairnholm to confirm there is no magical orphanage (which essentially serves as the Hogwarts of this story). Oh, but there is, and while exploring the local township, Jacob steps through a "time loop,” which transports him back to 1940, the year his grandfather left the orphanage and where he meets Miss Peregrine and her diverse group of peculiar children, each of whom has a unique ability.