This is a review for the new Tim Burton film, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. It contains plenty of spoilers, so let me just give advice to anyone that hasn’t seen it yet: don’t. I haven’t read the book, but I assume it’s better than this adaptation, because it made people want to adapt it to the big screen. Big mistake.
The heart of my complaints with Miss Peregrine’s is simply that it makes no (fucking) sense at all. The time travel is quite possibly the worst I’ve ever seen, and the character development is more of a magic trick, where the card the showman conjures definitely wasn’t in the pack at the start.
It’s tricky to rate this film out of 10, because it’s a bit of a rollercoaster ride. You become aware of the solid 6/10 moments during those 1/10 parts, such as the last 30 minutes. Past the frankly boring introduction, from the moment the main character’s grandfather is found dead, his eyes nowhere to be seen (ha ha), I actually sort of enjoyed it. I managed to look past the main character’s unconvincing acting and Chris O’Dowd’s stilted lines, I settled into what Tim Burton does well: uncovering a beautiful gothic/fantastic world.
The issue is, Miss Peregrine’s doesn’t know what kind of a feature it is. At first, it’s an adventure story: the old grandfather who tells his favourite descendent about his travels, so that he may die and some plot-related reason may force the bland main character to follow in his footsteps. Whups, grandpa is dead, but his eyeballs are gruesomely missing. Mystery! Horror! We’re in a gothic fantasy, and our bland main character is suitably flavoured with a bit of angst. Cue the orphanage, and all the dark fantasy fun made to make the viewer slightly uncomfortable: creepy twins in halloween costumes! A messed up necromancer with a Hitler Youth vibe! Mouthes and teeth where th’ good lawd ain’t meant there ta be none! Well, the romantic interest has to have an inoffensive, bubbly power (like floating) so that the fathers that bring their children to see this horror of a film can go home and masturbate to her without feeling intimidated, but she gets platform shoes so she still tics the goth box. The moment I got settled into this new aesthetic and target audience, Miss Peregrine gets kidnapped and the children must go to her rescue. All of a sudden, we’re in a mediocre live action Disney TV movie. The action sequences (particularly the skeletons vs hollow CGI face-off) aren’t believable, let alone gripping, and the resolution is just that: everything is resolved (urgh). Miss Peregrine’s has a lot of corpses and missing body parts for something targeted at young children, but the lack of any realism or grittiness in the action scenes disqualifies it from being anything else, and the sudden changes in tone really make it fall apart.
Let’s, for a moment, acknowledge the dismal take at time travel displayed in the film. I’m quite sure I understand how it works, yet to write it down here with all its inconsistencies would probably confuse me and my reader(s). It fails the most basic paradox of time travel: what if I go back to a time before my birth and kill my father? The main character, Jake, ends up going back six months before his grandfather’s murder and kills the murderer, as well as Big Baddie Mr. Barron. This prevents his grandfather’s death, the traumatic event that led him to Miss Peregrine’s orphanage in the first place. Which means Mr. Barron and his pet hollow never have to face Jake angsty teenage might, so would presumably live on to kill the grandfather, etc. This alone shows how low the creators’ standards are. This is less than minimum effort. The rest of the time travel makes no sense, but this is simply offensive.
The final thorn in my eye from this film is Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Mr. Barron. If you get such a badass actor, at least write a suitably impressive villain for him. Mr Barron shows no hesitation in killing the main character’s grandfather, and yet time and time again presses a blade against the character’s neck and refuses to saw through. There’s a scene in the orphanage where he makes a deal with Miss Peregrine to leave the boy alone, once she’s locked all the children in a room, and herself in a cage… and he actually lets the boy go once they all comply! Put aside the larger problems with a gang of super-villains who have been killing gifted children for decades being easily overpowered by the pathetic teenagers and clueless kids of Miss Peregrine’s home for the threats to public safety: the main character is at the villain’s mercy several times… and the villain doesn’t feel like killing that day? It’s too early, and he hasn’t had his coffee? He just doesn’t feel like it? Perhaps he’s getting tired of being everyone’s nightmare? In an adventure film, considering that the protagonist has to be bland enough to suit wide audiences of happy consumers, the antagonist is the one who must steal the show, horrify and impress. I was neither.
In the end, Miss Peregrine left me with only this thought: either the 8-13 year old range is far braver than I remember being at that age, or there may just be something to the theory that America has been pushing for an infantilisation of adults in order for their voting base to be more tractable. There’s nothing wrong with a good children’s film, a good YA gothic adventure, or even a spooky fantastical horror aimed at adults. There’s everything wrong with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.