Directed by Tim Burton
Starring Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Chris O’Dowd, Allison Janney, Rupert Everett, Terence Stamp, Ella Purnell, Judi Dench,
Samuel L. Jackson
Jake Portman (Butterfield) is a regular American (honest) loser, who connects better with his grandfather Abe (Stamp) than with his father (O’Dowd). When Abe dies, an apparent victim of a wild dog attack, and Jake believes that he sees a faceless giant looming in the bushes, his psychiatrist (Janney) suggests that it would do him good to go to the island in north Wales where his grandfather once lived in a children’s home, run – he always insisted to Jake – by a woman named Miss Peregrine who could turn into a bird, for the protection of children with extraordinary powers.
At first finding the home long-destroyed, Jake is contacted by Emma (Purnell) and the other children from the home and introduced to Miss Peregrine (Green), who explains that she and those like her protect ‘peculiar’ children by hiding them in perpetual time loops in which they never age. Although seemingly normal himself, Jake learns that he can see Hollowghasts, warped and evil Peculiars who transformed themselves into invisible monsters by trying to become immortal and now eat the eyes of other Peculiars to become human again, which means that they break into the time loops and murder children by the dozen; just in case you had any doubts about who was the bad guy. Their leader is Mr Barron (Jackson), who manages to track Jake into the loop and kidnap Miss Peregrine to use in an attempt to remove the last traces of his monstrous transformation while still being immortal.
With Blackpool-based guardian Miss Avocet (Dench) killed by a hollow and their loop collapsed, the children must Peculiar up and take on the hollows, to rescue their guardian and end their threat.
What’s wrong with it?
“Our story is about a boy from an American family who travels to Britain. For the American family, let’s have the actual Limey, that British kid who played Ender and the Irish bloke who played a kid’s imaginary friend.”
“Nah; too predictable.”
“Johnny’s doing the Alice sequel, isn’t he?”
When Jake goes to find his grandfather, he is driven by his co-worker, Shelley. She goes to fetch her gun, which takes about five times as long as it should, and when Jake shouts a warning of a monster that she can’t even see, she turns around and just empties the clip back in the direction of Grampa’s assisted living community.
I kind of get that the peculiar children, being from Britain in the 1940s, are all pasty (I presume that they’re based on the vintage photos which formed the initial core of the book) but if your villain is going to be a terrifying, monstrous black man, a little more diversity would have been advisable.
In fact, the villain is a monstrous scary black man who can shapeshift into a gay, upper class Englishman (Everett) and a female psychiatrist. Barron is basically white, Christian-right America’s ultimate bogeyman.
Never mind Jake’s relationship with his father, from the way everyone was talking I assumed his mother was dead until she actually showed up for that one scene.
Although in many ways the least Burtony Burton movie ever…
…the world clearly still works on pure whimsy. Emma explains that when they kill Barron it will undo his murder of Abe, despite the fact that they take him out after he kills Abe, in both relative and absolute chronologies. On which subject, how is Jake almost immediately heading off on his travels at the end of the film? If his grandfather never died and he just shows up in Blackpool one day, instead of Florida, surely he’s going to be grounded until he’s ninety.
Frankly, the central romance is… unconvincing. They have literally known each other for less than a week, and he’s ready to ditch his entire – admittedly slightly crappy – life to be with a girl who is into him because he looks like his grandfather.
What’s right with it?
Eva Green smiles a lot in this film. I was right; it is a good look for her.
The film has an interesting setup and range of characters, and the actors are all good, which is pretty damn impressive given the number of untried child actors in the cast. None of the Brits as Americans are glaringly bad in the accent department, at least not to this British ear.
The effects are slick and the monsters really pretty nasty.
How bad is it really?
It’s all right, but it could have been much more with a bit more thought and effort. The fact that the only black character is a literal monster also looms over the film rather.
Best bit (if such there is)?
- In the climax of the film, Barron does the whole ‘no, kill him’ shapeshifter bit, and Jake proves that he’s the real one, not by some heartfelt moment of sentiment, but by letting the monster that only he can see nom on Barron’s eyeballs. Kid is fucking hardcore.
What’s up with…?
- The Ymbrines? Like… ninety percent of peculiarities are unique, but all Ymbrines are women who turn into birds and can manipulate time. Jake also seems to have directly inherited his grandfather’s peculiarity, after it skipped a generation.
- The whole loop system? Who thought it was a good idea to ‘protect’ peculiar children by keeping them frozen at or around puberty? It’s kind of incredible that the house only has the one potentially destructive dysfunctional love triangle. The Ymbrines are actually a little creepy for maintaining this system. It’s hardly surprising that the hollows wanted out, although granted sucking the life out of your overzealous protector with an evil science doohickey to make yourself immortal is an extreme overcompensation.
- The Twins? Why weren’t the Medusa boys Plan A? I guess they’re not much good against the eyeless monsters…
Production values – The film is lovely to look at, and the various Peculiarities smoothly and simply, and with a fair number of practical effects. 4
Dialogue and performances – Pretty solid. There aren’t many classic lines, but even the somewhat forced romance doesn’t produce any serious clunkers either. 5
Plot and execution – The basic plot is pretty decent, but then it gets into wibbly wobbly timey wimey and it all goes a bit huh? Also, the Ymbrines are creepy like the Magisterium in His Dark Materials. 12
Randomness – There are a few wobbly contrivances (most notably the ‘huh; whatever’ approach to time shifting), but overall it’s sound. 8
Waste of potential – Unlike many of the films that end up on the BMM, it really does feel that this film could have been more than it is with just a little more care, attention and development time. 16