When it comes to families, one size doesn’t fit all and Jake (Asa Butterfield) knows he is a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. He just doesn’t seem to fit in. Jake has a wonderful relationship with his grandfather (Terence Stamp), who has told him remarkable stories throughout his young life. Mind you, his parents have dismissed these tales as fanciful and nothing more. When something sinister happens to granddad, Jake looks to a counsellor (Allison Janney) for answers. In time, he finds himself on a road trip with his father, one that will bring to life the characters he heard about from his grandfather … and that is when Jake’s life changes. You see, he discovers clues to a mystery that spans alternate realities and times. He uncovers a secret refuge known as Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
As Jake learns about the residents and their unusual abilities, he realises that safety is an illusion and danger lurks in the form of powerful, hidden enemies. Jake must figure out what is real, who can be trusted and who he really is.
The film version is based upon the debut novel by Ransom Riggs, published in 2011. It was an instant global hit and topped The New York Times best-seller list, where it remained for years. It has now sold more than three million copies. A sequel, Hollow City, was published in 2014, followed by the final book in the trilogy, Library of Souls.
Riggs’s journey to Miss Peregrine’s special Home began with his hobby of collecting vintage photographs at swap meets and flea markets – the more unusual the photo, the better. He also used to write freelance for Quirk Books (publishers of Pride, Prejudice and Zombies). One day he sent some of his stills to the Quirk team, thinking the images could make a haunting picture book. Instead, Quirk came up with the idea of using the photos to create a narrative for a novel. They became a touchstone for the characters.
The titular heroine of the novel and film is the protector of the Peculiars, Miss Peregrine (Eva Green). Her peculiarity is being an ymbrine, meaning she can manipulate time and take the form of a bird. Miss Peregrine, along with other ymbrines, uses this ability to create a time “loop”, in which she and the children live within a single day that repeats over and over again (Groundhog Day). This protects them from the evils of the world that exist outside the loop. Miss Peregrine is an intriguing and sometimes mysterious character, capable of being a maternal figure to her young charges, as well as a fearsome opponent to those who threaten them.
With an impressive cast that also includes Samuel L. Jackson, Chris O’Dowd and Dame Judi Dench, this is two love stories wrapped into one with a zany fantasy adventure plot, which is what Tim Burton is noted for. Basically, the script is an excuse to feature several freak show characters together with kids with special powers that would be right at home in an X-Men movie. Transparency, levitation, fire, ice, super human strength, metamorphosis – you name it and the peculiar children and their mentor have it. Then it’s off on a grand adventure in a rusted vessel that has been lying dormant at the bottom of the ocean for a long, long time.
At more than two hours, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children stretches our patience, notwithstanding the surfeit of special effects. While not my favourite Tim Burton film (Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands get that distinction), it is not without his trademark, ghoulish charm. Miss Peregrine’s has some violence and scary scenes, hence it has collected an M rating. It scores a 6½ to 7 out of 10.
Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Eva Green, Samuel L. Jackson, Asa Butterfield, Terence Stamp, Kim Dickens, Allison Janney
Release Date: 29 September 2016
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television