Monday, October 3, 2016


On the surface, strange and unusual director Tim Burton seems like a good fit for Ransom Riggs’ novel Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children; a children’s fantasy filled with scary tentacle monsters and orphaned children with fantastic abilities which feel right at home in a good horror movie. But Burton has proven to be at his best when he is working with material that he has a passion for, or at the very least, has the opportunity to put a personal touch on…which makes his own MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN a statement on his career.

Jake (Asa Butterfield), is a 14-year old boy who connects more with his storytelling grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp), than his distant parents (Chris O’Dowd and Kim Dickens). After a strange event happens, Jake finds himself whisked back in time to the 1940’s at a mysterious orphanage run by the shape-shifting Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), who cares for a group of children with creepy and fantastic abilities…who are being hunted by the evil Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson) and his creatures who want to eat the children’s eyes.

MISS PEREGRINE takes place in a complicated fantasy world populated with weird characters, scary monsters, and employs time-travel which whisks characters around all over the place. In an attempt to keep things somewhat grounded, Tim Burton uses the old cinematic trick of the main character acting as the audience surrogate. We see and experience the world through Jake’s eyes, and as he goes, the audience goes. Right away, there are issues as Jake is drawn up as a very boring and bland character. His motivations for finding the orphanage are fine, but once he’s there, there’s little reason for him to stick around other than to listen to other characters stand around and talk. There’s way too much telling and not showing in an attempt to build this universe, and it doesn’t take long before MISS PEREGRINE turns into a grind.

With Jake as a wet noodle of a main character, the burden falls upon the story to keep things interesting. The script is bogged down with way too much exposition, and although Burton is trying play with the theme of the power of storytelling, it never gets very intriguing. By the time the finale rolls around, in which Burton sticks to his new shtick of a ridiculous final battle, we’re left wondering exactly what everyone is fighting for. The story makes little sense, not from the point of view of the main character or from a scripting standpoint.

One of the most frustrating things about MISS PEREGRINE is that the narrative mess takes place in a very good looking world. The orphanage is packed with detail, and it would probably take several viewings to notice everything in the many creepy rooms. Creature design is fantastic, with the spindly, eyeball-eating monsters a nightmare-inducing visual treat. Some excellent stop-motion is used, including a short-lived fight between two bastardized skeleton-dolls which is the most fun the movie has to offer.

The goddamn 3D is muddy shit.

Acting is a bit of a misfire. Asa Butterfield has zero charisma and doesn’t do the film any good. Eva Green hams it up, but she’s less of a character and more of a tool to provide exposition…and she vanishes from the movie for too long when she turns into a bird and stays there. Samuel L. Jackson acts and looks like a cartoon character with his long white spiky hair and pointed teeth. Judi Dench and Kim Dickens appear for what seems like 15 seconds apiece and go away. Terence Stamp escapes mostly unscathed (he’s always great), and the younger cast of children, including Ella Purnell and Finlay MacMillan…are very good.

Over the years, Burton has put his heart and soul into certain films. In BIG FISH he told us about his relationship with his father. ED WOOD was his love letter to filmmaking, while BETELGEUSE, SLEEPY HOLLOW, and CORPSE BRIDE expressed his fascination with death. When he doesn’t put a personal touch on his work, the difference can be seen…and MISS PEREGRINE falls into that category. It is un-interesting, dull, over-the-top silly, and makes no impression whatsoever…not on the audience or the director.