Tim Burton has had an admittedly spotty directing career. While it started out very strong for a number of years, it gradually started to get less consistent when titles like Mars Attacks! (cult favourite of mine), Planet of the Apes (total misfire), Alice in Wonderland (haven’t seen it yet) and Dark Shadows (also haven’t seen it) started to creep into his filmography. He’s also always had that “he always casts Depp and his wife in his movies” hanging over his head as a critique which would be fine if they were, you know, bad actors or something. Still, he’s definitely fallen a little bit out of public favour over the years so it’s hard to get as excited about a new film of his like I used to back in the day. I went into his newest offering with baited breath.
Based on the book of the same name, the film focuses on a young man (Asa Butterfield) who is shocked when his dementia-ridden grandfather (Terence Stamp) is mysteriously killed behind his own home. As Jake (the titular character in question) soon finds out about a home for oddball children, he goes with his father (Chris O’Dowd) to discover this island and soon finds out that this school is run by a woman named Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), a strict but caring headmistress that has managed to create a time loop in which her and the children can revisit the same day every day so that they are not discovered and/or ridiculed by the public eye. They also soon have to worry about a benevolent force hunting them and possibly ending their lives.
I enjoyed this film a great deal and while it’s not a classic Burton flick, I did find it to be another respectable addition to his directorial work. First off, let’s talk about the visuals because… I don’t know… his movies TEND to have some amazing visual effects and overall production design. I was a bit taken back at first though because the beginning of the film and its first 20 minutes or so are fairly minimalistic and it made me think that this film might be a bit underwhelming in terms of the overall look. However, that did change quite a bit in the rest of the film. The house itself is a gorgeous creation inside and out but I also absolutely loved the look of everyone’s costumes and the overall production design of pretty much everything. From Miss Peregrine’s outfit to the CGI work to Samuel L. Jackson’s insane hair, this movie hits all the right notes in that regard. In fact, even though I enjoyed the whole film I would place the visuals on a higher level than the content of the story itself.
There is one part that hindered the movie quite a bit and that is the performance of its lead actor in Asa Butterfield. I am aware that it is still very early in this young man’s career and I have not seen his acclaimed performance in Scorsese’s Hugo but in this film he came across as wooden and not believable in the slightest. Every time he had to deliver a line with emotion or strong emphasis, it took me out of the moment a bit because I became very aware I was watching an actor struggle with written material. On the flip-side, Eva Green makes for a wonderful Miss Peregrine. I could just as easily see Helena Bonham-Carter playing this type of role but Green is warm, strong and nurturing in the role and is easily the most likeable character of the bunch.
There are way too many children actors to go over but I would say that they were all quite good in their various roles but I especially enjoyed Ella Purnell as Emma and Lauren McCrostie as a Peculiar that can control fire. It’s always nice seeing Chris O’Dowd and despite playing a small-ish role, he was pretty convincing and natural as Jake’s cautious father. Samuel L. Jackson shows up pretty late in the game so I don’t want to say too much about him but he is absolutely chilling (and occasionally hilarious) as the white-eyed Mr. Barron.
I liked the script for the film, especially when they dove into the comparisons between this world and the realities of World War II. Miss Peregrine and her children trying to avoid some terrifying villains is one thing but the way in which they are described triggers ideas of the Nazis finding and persecuting Jewish people at the time of the war. The fact that the monstrous villains are referred to as “Hollowgasts” just makes it seem that much more obvious despite the fact that it never feels like they’re really pushing the issue more than necessary. There are a few decent plot twists later in the film as well and a really enjoyable action-packed finale with skeletons and monsters doing battle. In fact, all of the CGI is very well-done and while I’m more of a fan of practical effects, I can always appreciate when these kinds of effects are done well.
I enjoyed the movie quite a bit but the lead performance does hamper it a bit. I found it hard to come up with a rating for this. I was going to go with a *** ½ but it’s unfair to bring down the film so much for Butterfield’s lackadaisical effort. I highly recommend you check it out; it’s one of the better Burton flicks in quite a while.
* (Brutal; the worst rating)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)