Reviewed by Matt Denny.
After the mysterious death of his Grandfather Abe, Jacob (Asa Buterfield) soon discovers that there is more truth in Abe’s fantastical childhood stories than Jacob had been led to believe. Jacob soon learns that there is more to the world that meets the eye - and not all of it benign.
There is plenty to delight fans of Tim Burton in the director’s latest, which hits most of the expected signature notes while avoiding some (if not all) of Burton’s less endearing excesses. This restraint ensures that for the most part Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children should prove palatable for those viewers less keen on Burton’s own peculiarities. Restraint is, in this case at least, a relative term and the film is still a candy coloured gothic delight where charismatic misfits and outsiders abound. Indeed those of a cynical bent might note that recently the numbers of outsiders and misfits in Burton’s films far exceed those of the oppressive normal population. I’d argue that with Frankenweenie (2012) and Dark Shadows (2012) - as with this film - that’s partly the point.
Having not read the books by Ransom Riggs on which the film is based, I can’t comment on how effective the film is an adaption - but as a film in its own right it is perhaps only partly successful. There are some astonishing and gripping sequences, particularly relating to the titular “peculiarities” of the children. The coming of age aspects of the film are similarly satisfying, but sadly take a back seat as the mild peril shifts gears to moderate threat. This is something I feel the Harry Potter films also suffered from - incidental common room shenanigans and homework angst have to take a back seat when you only have ninety minutes to defeat Lord Voldemort. As plot begins to overtake whimsical world-building the film loses in charm what it gains in urgency. Without wishing to dwell on the ending in what is supposed to be a spoiler-free review, it would be remiss of me not to warn viewers that the first half of the film is far stronger than what follows. Some wibbly-wobbly plot mechanics and strange (that is, stranger than unusual) directorial decisions in the action sequences leave the final act of the film too messy to be truly satisfying.
These minor quibbles are largely overshadowed by a typically engaging performance by Eva Green as the peculiar children’s eponymous guardian. Devotees of Greens ability to be ten times more gothic than anyone else in the room won’t be disappointed, although the tone here is more Mary Poppins than Mary Shelley. Green brings a brittle briskness to the character, augmented by moments of melancholy and flashes of something spikier and far less child friendly. The young cast put in an effective ensemble performance, but it’s Green that’s the real draw here.
At its best when conjuring fantastical tableau (perhaps not surprising given the importance of photography in Rigg’s work) but never quite holding together in an entirely satisfying way, there is nevertheless enough that is delightful, charming, and beautiful in the film to make up for most if not all its shortcomings.
This review was published on October 02, 2016.
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