MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN. Starring: Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Ella Purnell, Terence Stamp, Samuel L. Jackson, and Judi Dench. Directed by Tim Burton. Rated M (Fantasy themes and violence, some scary scenes). 127 min.
This American fantasy-adventure film is under the firm control of Tim Burton, who directed "Batman" (1989). Burton, however, is perhaps best known for the dark eccentricities of "Edward Scissors Hands" (1990), "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)", and "Alice in Wonderland" (2010). In this film, he brings his imaginative talents to tell the tale of a boy finding a home, which is an abandoned orphanage on a Welsh island, where its residents have special powers. The residents there think he has a power which can save them.
The film is based on the novel of the same name by Ransom Riggs, published in 2001. Both novel and film are dark fantasies, and Burton has developed his version of darkness with a well- established reputation for creepy cinema.
A 16yr.-old teenager, Jacob (Asa Butterfield) - whose parents think he has mental health issues - pursues the past life of his grandfather (Terence Stamp) and finds the secret refuge of Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), who is head-mistress of a home for children with supernatural powers. Miss Peregrine protects her children by setting them safely in a time loop which is repeated day by day. For Miss Peregrine and her charges, the day stays as September 3rd., 1943. Jacob has worked out how to span alternative realities and times, and this allows him to find her.
Jacob's grandfather was sent to the same home before World War II broke out, and he also met some very unusual people, who were residents there at the time. Jacob thought his grandfather's stories were fairly tales, but he now knows that was not true. He also knows that Miss Peregrine and her children are surrounded by evil forces. In a world where illusion and reality are almost indistinguishable, Jacob has to work out who can be trusted, who is real, and who is fake.
The film explores what identity means, and the differences between reality and appearances that help shape it. Within the time-loop that allows the children to stay secure, Miss Peregrine's children exist in a world where every difference is accepted. The main message of the movie is that being peculiar is a good thing, and differences need to be preserved. The end of the movie has Jacob making a choice - to stay, or not to stay, when he knows where true differences lie.
The film displays Miss Peregrine's powers and those of her children brilliantly, and in a highly unusual way. One child controls the weather; another is invisible; and another has a mouth where you don't expect it to be. Emma (Ella Purnell), to whom Jacob is attracted, levitates into the air and needs help to get back down. Miss Peregrine's turns herself into a bird, and keeps her children safe in the time loop by rigidly controlling time. However, dark forces are on the increase, and lie menacingly outside the loop. Monsters in human forms, called wights, kill in search of food for other monsters, called hollowgast, who especially like to feed on "peculiar" children.
Only such a storyline can be delivered with impressive visual effects, and this film delivers them abundantly. The film is a dark whimsical return to form for Tim Burton, and his style of direction wonderfully suits the development of high-tech imagery where visual scenes are created to fit a free-flowing story line that can take the viewer anywhere. Burton, true to character, adds a Gothic, touch wherever he can, and delivers it in characteristic style. There are cameo appearances to look out for by Judy Dench, and especially Samuel L. Jackson as the evil Barron.
This is a highly imaginative and entertaining film, with tremendous special effects and a lot of conceptual appeal. But parents be warned, the film's imagery is far too scary for young children.
Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Twentieth Century Fox
Released September 29th., 2016