† H a p p y   H a l l o w e e n †

This one's worth skipping.

This one’s worth skipping.

Burton was right, it's not a phase.

Burton was right, it’s not a phase.

If Tim Burton now has the self-restraint to make a movie that doesn’t feature Johnny Depp or Helena Bonham Carter, then perhaps he’s also allowed himself to fairly represent a source material this time instead of going Alice on us again? Such were my initial thoughts upon the announcement of Burton’s movie adaptation of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, but I will be unable to answer my own question due to my limited familiarity with the original tale.

Eva Green and Asa Butterfield star in 'Miss Peregrine's Home...'.

Eva Green and Asa Butterfield star in ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home…’.

What I do know is that the adaptation, while not as infuriating as some of Burton’s previous reimaginings, ultimately spends more time on world-building, neat visuals and explaining what things are than it does on emotional investment and characters. There is high effort here. Some of it should probably have gone into other areas of the filmmaking procedure.

Asa Butterfield plays the entirely ordinary Jake, whose grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp), a man presumed demented by most, is his closest loved one. After Abe dies a seemingly unnatural death, Jake travels with his uncaring father (Chris O’Dowd) to an island in Wales that would feature in many of Abe’s crazy bedtime stories. An island where a home for children with extraordinary powers is said to be located, under the management of the imposing Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), who is neither bald nor wheelchair-bound. When Jake arrives there, he at first starts to think that maybe there wasn’t anything “extraordinary” to his grandfather’s death or any truth to his tales, but he is quickly proven wrong.

Jake discovers that Miss Peregrine’s home, while apparently in ruins in present day, still exists within a time loop that replays a day in 1942 for all eternity. When he enters the loop and meets Miss Peregrine, she explains that she watches over superpowered humans known as “Peculiars”. She herself is an Ymbrine, a peculiar that can transform into an animal and also keep other peculiars safe within time loops. Jake also learns of the Wights, a league of rogue Peculiars led by an embarrassingly cheesy Samuel L. Jackson, who once aimed to use the essence of captured Ymbrines to remain immortal even outside of time loops but instead became soulless beasts that must devour eyeballs to regain their human form.

Yeah, this is a movie that kind of throws a lot at you, though there are some actual characters to mention as well. And yes, some of them do get to bloom in spite of it all.

miss-peregrine-emo-gothFor example, the residents of Miss Peregrine’s home are an enjoyably strange and interesting lot. There is a levitating manipulator of air, Emma (a lovely Ella Purnell), who adores Jake and keeps secrets of her own; there is a redhead of the fiery persuasion; there are creepy twins who don emotionless masks; there are little girls, some with gaping mouths on their neck, some with more strength than most; there is an invisible boy, and there is a bland jerk/rival archetype who dislikes Jake from the word go. The latter character, who I swear is based on Burton himself, spends most of his time brooding in his bedroom whilst constructing and manipulating tiny David Firth-type dolls. It’s one of the better visuals in the picture.

Regardless of how I felt about the film, which started out promising and sometimes effectively scary but only proceeded to get goofier, I somewhat wish to get to know these peculiar children better some day. Sadly, they exist in a movie that cares far more about reciting backstory and convoluted rules than it cares about the people (the one relationship I cared for was that of Jake and Grampa Abe). There are numerous scenes towards the end where characters are forced to say farewell to each other and I never once felt a thing.

And yet, with all this time devoted to exposition and info dumps, there are still aspects of its story that are insufficiently explained. The entire third act is topsy-turvy nonsense with back-and-forth time travelling and I’m still not completely sure what the pouty guy’s powers are. Does he just spawn tiny hearts from his anus and place them indiscriminately inside whatever object or dead body he wishes to animate, or has he built the hearts himself somehow? Does he ever run out of hearts to use or is his inventory infinite? Can he use them to control anything that even vaguely resembles a body? Nobody knows. Probably not even Tim.

Speaking of Tim himself, there’s some controversy surrounding this film and his noticeable tendency of always casting people who best fit his pale-faced eccentrics – with some distinct eyes and nutty hair, if you please – namely white people. He has been accused of never being racially diverse, which makes an upsetting amount of sense once you realize that Samuel L. Jackson is one of the few major black characters in a Tim Burton film and he’s almost as much of a joke as Cat from Red Dwarf.

Miss Peregrine and her peculiar children.

Miss Peregrine and her peculiar children.

Lastly there are some sour notes in the acting (Asa Butterfield was clearly too occupied trying to maintain his American accent to emote convincingly) and the odd visual flaw, including one of the most blatant day-for-night scenes in recent history near the climax. However, credit is due in such areas as cinematography (most of it), production design, and visuals – even if some of it was hard to take in through malfunctioning 3D glasses. Some of the more frightening images, like the design of the twins and the stop-motion puppets, are going to stay fondly in my memory.

I enjoyed Miss Peregrine several degrees more than, say, Alice Through The Looking Glass but something was very notably missing in this one. I feel like a pretty great film lies hidden in this mediocre, tone-deaf and confusing one. I also imagine I might have enjoyed it more if some parts of the film didn’t take themselves so seriously whilst the rest of the film is the way that it is. The word “cringey” came up a few times as my brother and I were discussing the movie on the drive home.

A trailer for the film is posted below. More Halloween-themed reviews will appear throughout October and should I see a recent film that’s unsuitable for the big spook-month (Deepwater Horizon for example), I might push the review ’til November or not write one at all ’til I recap the year. Everything is possible, that much Burton taught me this week.

2.5/5 whatever

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