Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

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“This isn’t even the fun part.”

Like so many YA fantasies being brought to the screen of late, Miss Peregrines’s Home for Peculiar Children has too much scope to be understood in the confines of a single film. This hampered shopping cart tries to maneuver through tight quarters with an annoying spinning wheel of a plot point and an excess of product on board. And yet it still opts for the self checkout lane, scanning item after item even though there’s a clearly stated limit. It’s okay to have a few more than the typically acceptable 12 item ceiling; I liken that to going above posted speed signs. But if that’s the comparison to be made here, Miss Peregrine goes at the pace of an autobahn in a highly populated city street. There is wonder in this world, and a sobering sadness, plus a deceiving sense of disbelief. If only it had any logic.

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Asa Butterfield stars as Jake, a friendless young man living in Florida with his father (Chris O’Dowd). Jake thinks himself to be unremarkable, which frankly seems pretty spot on. Dad discourages Jake’s relationship with his grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp), still sharing the same old fantastical fables once told to Jake as bedtime stories. Abe says they’re fact, not fiction. Others attribute them to dementia. But Jake believes these tall tales, especially following a deadly attack that costs Abe his life, not before telling his grandson how to find the titular home for fellow outcasts. And so he traces the tracks to Wales, hoping to vindicate his grandpa, and maybe to find a place where he’ll finally belong.

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It’s at this point where the film finally snaps out of its lull yet also slathers on far too much story. As is normally the case, Jake is the last remaining hope for the other “peculiars” being watched over by Miss Peregrine (Eva Green). The only other child worth mentioning is Emma (Ella Purnell, an actress to watch for). She and Jake share a romance, because of course they do. Miss Peregrine sits perched on the lookout, keeping the children safe in a time loop set for September 3rd, 1943; the loop is essential to their safety, hiding from the evil Barron (Samuel L. Jackson) and his cohorts lusting for immortality. They must eat the eyes of other peculiars – preferably those of children – to retain human form after a botched experiment. If you read this paragraph and wonder what the hell it all means, know that watching the films delivers even fewer answers. Miss Peregrine is nowhere as different or unique as its premise suggests, and contains black hole sized gaps in plot that it continuously falls face-first into.

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Miss Peregrine so badly needed rules and context and a sense of time. All three are addressed – through expository dialogue and sumptuous set designs – but they never ring true. Had it not been turned into a tacky computer generated affair by the third act, I could have almost imagined it being more successful as a silent film. If you strip this picture of color and sound, you’re basically left with a childish and commercialized take on 1932’s controversial carny film FreaksSaying less and showing more most definitely would have drawn audience interest into the peculiarities, discovering the strangeness without being told what’s normal and what’s obscure. That’s not the case though, and we’re fed regurgitation. Tim Burton’s picture shows flashes of his fascination with the bizarre, and it might go down quickly, even if it has no opening note or biting aftertaste. The film is one big processed product lacking the expected anomalous factors we’ve come to associate with Mr. Burton. The scale is sizable, and the story contains a few positive notes, but Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is not where the heart is.

“We don’t discuss the future here.”

Rating: 2 out of 5

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