A warning: if you’ve read the book this film is based on, you are likely to be outraged at the liberties taken with the plot. Well my 13 year old daughter, although prewarned by her older sister, spent a good half hour afterwards detailing the inconsistencies. Being blissfully ignorant, I quite enjoyed this Tim Burton fantasy of children with special peculiarities and the adults who try to protect and exploit them.
We meet the main protagonist, Jake (Asa Butterfield), in a Florida suburbia akin to that in Edward Scissorhands; manicured streets and identical houses. The film is bookended by the relationship between Jake and his grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp) but the heart of the action occurs on a remote Welsh Island where Mrs Peregrine, an Ymbryne, has created a time loop to protect her group of children. Jake has heard the stories of the children from Abe and seen the photos of Emma who can float, Millard who is invisible, Olive who creates fire with her hands and Bronwyn who has super strength (spoiler – the film swaps the peculiarities of Emma and Olive for no discernible reason). Jake travels to the island (via a psychiatrist who supports his parents’ view that he is crazy) to warn them that ‘hollows’, huge, tentacled monsters, are searching for them.
It’s an interesting premise for a story and the peculiarities of the children are engaging and diverse. Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) is a mesmerising mix of authority and warmth and some of the visual concepts, whilst a bit hard to believe, are memorable – Emma floating, tethered by a rope, Emma sinking into the bowels of a shipwreck with her leaden shoes, Miss Peregrine folding deftly into her bird form. Drama is built by the very real threat of the hollows and, even more effectively, their leader, the shapeshifter Mr Barron (Samuel L Jackson). The time loop, set on a particular day in 1943, allows for some interesting contrasts between the 40s and today and there are some effective special effects when the loop resets.
Unfortunately the film descends into silliness toward the end as it brings the action to a climax. The skeletons and the fairyfloss-coated invisible hollows seem a bit ludicrous and contrived and at odds with the beautiful and weighty humanity that pervades the rest of the film (and also not in the book). The seaworthiness of the vessel used also defies belief, as does the very pat ending that will leave you feeling a bit shortchanged, maybe slightly nauseous if you are anything like our family. My eldest daughter felt it wasn’t Tim Burton enough, not dark enough, too Hollywood, and I would agree with her. Not terrible though.
Bechdel test – pass