Movie Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
By Matthew Huntley
October 10, 2016
Miss Peregrine knows what it's like to be special, as she herself is an ymbryne, which means she can create time loops as well as transform into a bird, fittingly a peregrine falcon. Miss Peregrine's time loop, like those of other ymbrynes around the world, repeats the same day over and over again, and those living in it never age until they step out of it. Miss Peregrine instantiated her loop in an effort to protect children who possess particular gifts because she doesn't believe the outside world will accept them.
Among Peregrine's wards are Emma Bloom (Ella Purnell), who's lighter than air and would float away unless she wears metal shoes. Ella was Abraham's love interest before he left and she develops a similar liking toward Jacob, who poses a threat to Enoch O'Connor (Finlay MacMillan) because he's no longer the lone teenage boy of the house. Enoch isn't shy about showing off his gift, which is bringing humans back to life for a short time. He often ignores his own love interest, Olive (Lauren McCrostie), who can make fire with her hands.
These and the other orphans, whose powers range from invisibility to prophetic dreams to super strength to having a mouth in the back of the head, eventually ban together to battle Barron (Samuel L. Jackson), who in the world of peculiardom, is a Wight, or a former hollowgast who's consumed enough peculiar souls that he now looks human, save for his white eyes. And like most villains who occupy such worlds, Wights only care about obtaining as much power as possible in order to crush anyone not like them, unless Jacob and Miss Peregrine's plucky children can stop him.
Considering the summation of the plot and characters, it's evident Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, based on the novel by Ransom Riggs, draws a lot of (and probably too much) inspiration from others of its kind, and because it has such a familiar setup and execution, I struggled to get excited about its narrative. Perhaps I have a peculiarity of my own, which is the ability to know more or less how everything in a story like this will play out, and I'm willing to bet, reader, you do too. But as useful as such an ability can often be, it unfortunately limits this movie's appeal because there are no major surprises or revelations.
Where the screenplay by Jane Goldman (who, coincidentally, contributed to two X-Men scripts) could have made up for this was by giving the characters more one-on-one, personal time, with scenes that go beyond simply progressing the plot. As I mentioned, a romance blossoms between Jacob and Ella, but it settles on being standard with a perfunctory conclusion. There are also no substantive scenes in which Jacob, Ella or any of the other orphans genuinely express what it's like to live the same day over and over again while being forced to hide who they really are from the outside world. Digging into this aspect of the story would have things more interesting, but unfortunately the movie's plot becomes so basic and routine that it ends up as an element we simply don't think or care much about, which shouldn't be case. We want the movie to venture into more emotional and eventful territory to help it stand out.
The elements that do stand out are Gavin Bocquet's production design, Greg Berry and others' art direction, and Colleen Atwood's costumes, which, collectively, place us in a very distinct and rich universe, where the atmosphere and mood are a mix of brightness, darkness, happiness, fear, angst and romance. Visually, we don't know where the movie will take us, and that was exciting, but the lively tapestry generated by the sets, lighting and wardrobe can only go so far before we consider them mere decorations that attempt to compensate for the lack of substance and hackneyed storytelling.
I assume that if Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is successful enough, the studio will want to adapt the other two novels in Riggs' series: Hollow City and Library of Souls.” And now that the setup of Peregrine's world is complete, hopefully the filmmakers can start to develop the characters and really hone in on their personalities and relationships. Had they done that with this first entry, the movie might have been an enchanting gem outside of its superficial qualities. Granted, they're superb superficial qualities, but superficial nonetheless.