Jacob ‘Jake’ Portman (Asa Butterfield) is a lonely teenager in California whose closest friend is his grandfather, Abe (Terrance Stamp). For years Abe has told Jacob magical stories of his past, all of which feature monstrous beasts and peculiar yet remarkable children. These children are known as Peculiars and reside with Mrs Peregrine (Eva Green) in her home in the Welsh countryside which Abe lived several decades ago.
However, Abe is attacked, but before he dies he tells Jake to find his old children’s home that will prove to Jake that Abe’s stories are true. In Wales, Jake finds the children’s home has been destroyed by German bombs (quite why German bombers were bombing a small village in Wales remains to be seen), however he finds the loop that brings him back to 1943 when Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was still standing, proving that his grandfather’s stories were true. There he must save the children from The Wrights, a malicious group who hunt Peculiars for their abilities.
Of late Tim Burton’s live action films have been pretty disappointing, whilst they feature the gothic and fantastical elements of his classic works they been unmemorable and lacking narratively with Alice in Wonderland being a meandering exercise in showing off his imagination and Dark Shadows being so as forgettable I can’t even remember what I thought of it. His latest film, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, isn’t much of a step forward, in fact it’s more of sideways step as its no significant improvement in his work, especially in comparison to his superb early efforts.
There’s plenty of good material to work with here, and the story suits Tim Burton’s wild imagination. The kid’s strange gifts allow Burton to be imaginative with their depiction, and the various beasts are quite spooky creations. It’s a good looking film (Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography excels when Burton gets to stretch his imagination) and one that marvels at the work of practical effects wizard Ray Harryhausen, particularly his work in Jason and the Argonauts. What’s also impressive is how startlingly creepy some of the film’s scenes are. For example, the first time Jacob arrives at his grandfather’s house in dense hog has great gothic quality to it which Burton excels in.
However, the film really struggles to keep the tone consistent, the time spent with the peculiar children is generally less interesting than the film’s darker, more gothic elements. That’s because much of the film’s humour fails because of the casts’ stilted delivery of the lines. It adds to the unevenness of the film that is only good in fits and bursts. I never felt invested in the characters, and neither did I care about their relationships. All in all, it was rather unengaging with aspects of the story (especially the Second World War aspects) feeling under developed.