Was anyone surprised Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, starring Eva Green, managed to find a perch at the top of the US and international box offices?
Of course I knew the director Tim Burton has a fan base, but amazingly I had never heard of the source material, which is, er, peculiar, as Ransom Riggs’ YA novel sold millions and has been translated into 40 languages. So now, 20th Century Fox has a hit movie that’s perfect for inspiring this year’s Halloween costumes.
Our young hero is Jake (Asa Butterfield), who has left his Floridian home on the advice of his shrink (Allison Janney) to vacation in rainy Wales. This isn’t because she thinks the trip would be recuperative, but to put to rest Jake’s beloved Grandpa’s (Terence Stamp) tales of growing up in a Welsh orphanage for children with extraordinary abilities.
When his grandpa died in mysterious circumstances, he left Jake with a riddle harking back to those bedtime stories, plus nightmarish memories of a gigantic tentacled creature (hence the shrink) at the scene of his death.
Jake discovers a cave that acts as a gateway to the orphanage, which is stuck on one particular day in 1943 and where the children live in creepy isolation. And they do indeed have abilities; there’s your typical super strength and invisibility, or a girl with razor sharp teeth at the back of her skull, and a boy who seems to have swallowed a hive of bees and likes to belch up a swarm. Count me out of school dinners at this place, thanks.
- Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – as if Harry hasn’t suffered enough
- Crimson Peak Review – dark fantasy period drama feels very Tim Burton, plus The Martian review
- My favourite sci-fi heroines – Noomi Rapace leads a team of doomed idiots to answer the biggest question of all…
Jake strikes up a bond with Emma Bloom, a true Burtonesque blonde ingénue who would simply float away if it weren’t for her platform shoes. Ella Purnell is clearly a rising star (she’s played young versions of Angelina Jolie and Keira Knightley), but the romance isn’t convincing. Butterfield is yet to grow into much of a presence, while Emma Bloom is not only blooming beautiful, but also an octogenarian who used to fancy Jake’s granddad.
Headmistress Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) is a “Ymbryne”, meaning she can both a) manipulate time and b) transform into a falcon. The ever-luminous Green is the movie’s emotional heart as a mother bird protecting her young from nasties like Samuel L. Jackson’s (underwritten) mad scientist and the eyeball-chomping Hollowgasts.
Plenty of top level talent has been drafted in for what are effectively cameos, including Rupert Everett, Chris O’Dowd and Judi Dench, but there are too many faceless young peculiars (quite literally, in the case of the invisible kid and the creepy masked twins).
The movie has some scary imagery, but the smaller kids in my theatre seemed pretty blasé about it all. And it wasn’t the dark fantasy elements that I found unnerving. Being cursed with a set of teeth at the back of your skull would be a tough break, as would dodging evil creatures that want to eat you. Being forced to spend an eternity at school as a young child? That would be hellish.
There is one young peculiar named Horace (Hayden Keeler-Stone) who has prophetic dreams – why did he have to hide? Couldn’t he pass as ‘normal’? Horace doesn’t have a big role, yet he is possibly the most disturbing character. Perhaps it’s just a big thing about Horace in the books and they decided to keep it, but his old worldy manners and fixation with clothes and tailoring was quite eerie. It’s as if incarceration in what is effectively A PRISON WORLD has unhinged the lad – even Asa Butterfield managed to look alarmed.
The most haunting moment comes just before the Luftwaffe drop a bomb on the orphanage. Miss Peregrine has gathered her pupils to reset the day, as she does every day, and she plays the popular WW2 era song Run Rabbit Run on the gramophone. We know Grandpa witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust (Hollowgast?), and it’s a shame the movie fails to engage further with the historical context.
There’s something skin-creeping about the movie, like the Victorian era “freak show”, that feels very Burton. Peregrine is a bit like one of those jaunty nursery rhymes with some deeply sinister meaning – it’s just that nobody is really clear what that meaning is.
Based on the first of a trilogy, perhaps there’s a lot of stuff that didn’t translate, and I would need a “loop” of my own to go back and understand the time travel twists. If Peregrine does enough business, we might get three more big screen instalments (the final book would be split into two, naturally).
I’m sure I’ll watch them if they happen, but for someone who spent their childhood (and adulthood) secretly hoping they’d fall through a wardrobe into Narnia, this is one fictional fantasy world I would not want to visit.