The buzz about Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is that it falls apart in the second half, and that’s absolutely not true. It falls apart well before then.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is about Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield), a
muggle seemingly normal boy of young adult protagonist age, who’s grandfather, Abe (Terrence Stamp), is mysteriously killed. An investigation leads Jake to Wales, where he discovers a pocket of time containing Hogwarts the titular Miss Peregrine’s, a safehouse for X-men peculiar children run by Alma LeFey Peregrine (Eva Green), a horrible time witch who traps children and dooms them to relive the same day forever and never mature to adulthood. Most of the screentime is dedicated to his awkward, poorly explained love triangle with a floating girl, Emma Bloom (Ella Purnell), and a necromancer, Enoch O’Connor (Finlay MacMillan), but Peregrine also explains that Slenderman a death cult of terrifying monsters with tentacles, elongated limbs and no face lead by Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson) is out to kill everyone and eat their eyes.
So, it’s a bit derivative. And horrifying.
It is woefully apparent Miss Peregrine’s was adapted from a Harry Potter knockoff, and it suffers many of the same editing problems that the weaker Harry Potter movies did. Some scenes cut off before they start to work, others go on long enough to show that they were never going to work. There’s way too much world building information and writer Jane Goldman clearly didn’t know how to wrangle it all. The movie devolves almost immediately into dull expository dialogue, and reverts to it every time a new fantasy element is introduced.
So much time is devoted to this world-building, it has none left for the characters. It doesn’t matter how imaginative a setting is. Stories aren’t about settings, they’re about the people that inhabit them. This movie reverses those priorities and suffers because of it. As backstories and motivations that I guess must have been in the book get skipped over for time and characters start doing things for no apparent reason in the movie’s later stages, it becomes more and more apparent how poorly thought out this adaptation was.
I’d love to know why they got Tim Burton for this, because he was very much the wrong choice. He’s known for his distinct approach of clean camera movement and sanitized Gothic design choices, and he falls so hard on his own personal conventions that it chokes Miss Peregrine’s off from developing its own visual style. This doesn’t look like its own movie as much as it looks like a lovechild between Edward Scissorhands and Alice in Wonderland. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but a fresh vision would have benefited this project.
The apparent racism he brought to the table, though, is necessarily a bad thing, and threatens to mar his entire body of work.
The choice to avoid casting many of the book’s non-white characters is one of many strange changes to the source material. Movies don’t need to be just like the books they’re based on and never could be, but many of these creative decisions don’t seem to add anything. Bloom has fire powers in the book, for example, but swaps for Olive Elephanta’s (Lauren McCrostie) air powers for some reason. Creative liberties can reveal a lot about the intent behind adaptations and biopics, but in this case there doesn’t seem to be much intent at all.
This questionable decision making extends to some of the truly awful things the movie chooses to show. The scene of Peregrine resetting the time loop is one of the most aesthetically unsettling of the year, and there doesn’t seem to be any reason why. It’s a grand set piece in which the home almost gets bombed that features Swastikas, World War II era gas masks and a creepy phonograph being played backward. This is supposed to be a kid’s movie, isn’t it?
The weirdly scary set choices repeat later in a Frankenstein inspired scene in which Barron initially turns himself into a monster.
Miss Peregrine’s is a mess of nonsensical creative decisions, inept storytelling and scary moments that don’t fit in any way. Skip it.
Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, intern at the Lewisville Texan Journal and journalism student at the University of North Texas. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@.