The name Tim Burton is synonymous with all things weird. Men with scissors for hands, festive skeletons, and zombie dogs populate the films of the zany director, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that his latest film has the word “peculiar” in its title. But what seemed like a match made in heaven is actually a bit of a letdown as Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children never quite becomes as peculiar as any Burton fan would hope.
Jake (Asa Butterfield) is your average teenager. He works in retail, he is nervous around the opposite sex, and he’s just generally not competent at anything whatsoever. After discovering the brutally mangled and eyeless corpse of his grandfather (Terrance Stamp), Jake sets out to find a mysterious island full of people with special abilities. The reasoning for all of this is left completely and deliberately open as his grandfather’s dying words are that infuriating “I must tell you…*dead.*”
Eventually Jake finds the home for peculiar children (on an island off of the coast of Wales), led by a regal Eva Green. Unfortunately, if one had seen but a single trailer, all of the peculiarities of the children should come as no surprise. Many, like the girl with the monstrous mouth on the back of her head, are merely sight-gags that are just recycled from the trailer.
As the story slowly pieces itself together with egregious attempts to make its painful simplicity mysterious, we finally learn of an evil villain in the form of Samuel L. Jackson as a fanged mad-man trying to become immortal by eating all of the eyes of the peculiars.
What bugs me the most is how non-Burtonesque this film is. Even Big Eyes, his most recent film, had more of a Burton feel than this did and it was realistic. There’s no Danny Elfman doing the score nor is there anything we really haven’t seen before. The children could have been a lot more creepy or original…and there could’ve been more of them, though that probably would have added more fluff to the film which already clocks in at over two hours. While it has all of the visuals of what we expect from Burton, there really isn’t much else besides a few cool moments with stop-motion. A lot of the time it feels like Burton has no inspiration whatsoever, and the film sorely suffers because of it.
If there’s one thing that stands out in the film, it’s the performance of Ella Purnell who plays Emma, Jake’s love interest. She shines amongst over-the-top performances of Jackson and awkward-as-usual Butterfield. Judi Dench makes a brief, but horribly underwhelming appearance while Green imbues her Miss Peregrine with enough mystery to make us wonder about her past, but we never quite get to know it…I guess that means there’s a sequel to come.
Tim Burton’s name was written all over Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, but his heart wasn’t in it at all. An annoyingly convoluted and unnecessarily shrouded mystery should not be the crux of the film when the twists can be seen from a mile away. Though excuses can be made, I suppose, in that Burton is working off a novel meant for young adults…but that didn’t stop him from making Charlie and the Chocolate Factory into one of the weirdest adaptations ever, now did it?