Thursday 6 October 2016

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

"I knew you were one of us when you were born. It's time for you to learn what you can do."

Tim Burton's films hold a special resonance for certain audiences, and while that gave his career a certain longevity and iconography during its early years but in other ways I can't help but wonder if it's been detrimental to his career as well. Don't get me wrong, I loved 'Edward Scissorhands', 'Beetlejuice' and 'Ed Wood' as much as anyone (as well as 'Nightmare Before Christmas' which he only produced rather than directed) but Burton seems so adamantly planted within his own style of filmmaking that he seems unable to grow as an artist, to adapt or evolve into anything new. Sadly that is once again evident in 'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children'.

For his whole life, teenager Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield) had been hearing stories from his grandfather, about his childhood in which he battled gruesome monsters and lived in a home for unique children headed by the elusive Miss Peregrine (Eva Green). When Jake discovers that the institute is real he finds both friendship and purpose within the magical realm.

On the surface one would think Burton's sensibilities would be a perfect fit for adapting Ransom Riggs' book of the same name. Thematically they are founded on the concept of a loner searching for their own identity as well as a place of belonging, set against a gothic and supernatural backdrop. Surprisingly though, on a visual level this is actually the least Burton-esque film the director has ever made. If your a devoted fan of his style you may find that 'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children' (a title that feels even longer when you have to type it out) shares more in common with an average superhero blockbuster than a traditional Burton film. In fact given that the films premise is strikingly similar to 'X-Men' (a secret school for gifted youngsters with supernatural abilities) maybe the visual style was an attempt to capitalise on that, a film more suited for today's superhero saturated scene.

That being said, when it comes to the films actual plot there is a considerable amount of material to distinguish it from most other franchises. Or at least I think there was because to be brutally honest 'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children' often feels so weighed down by expository dialogue and dense mythology to build and establish the world in which it takes place. Most of this is handled by the titular character herself which ultimately becomes an annoyance as Eva Green gives a magnetic performance, but so much of her screen time is devoted to talking the audience through each aspect of their surroundings that the character never feels like a fully realised creation. Instead of spreading this world building throughout the film we receive barrel loads of it during the films first act, and even the few small features that remain elusive are only done so for increasingly contrived reasons so the screenwriters can introduce some form of surprise during the films climax.

What makes the front loading of the exposition even more frustrating is that the film never allows its audience any time to become invested within the school and the children that inhabit it. The peculiar children in question are not granted any depth of development. They serve less as characters and more as decoration to enhance the strangeness of the environment. In other circumstances that could be acceptable but in a film where the third act demands that you care about the school and the children within it in order to become invested in the plot it ultimately falls short of achieving any satisfying connection.

But despite this the plot itself feels somewhat secondary to the exposition, instead of driving the narrative it comes across as just an excuse to include action sequences that will keep the viewer invested . That being said, at least the plot is able to bring us Samuel L Jackson's villainous Mr Barron who is either the worst part of the film or the best. I know that sounds broad but Jackson's eccentric, scenery chewing, moustache twirling antagonist has to be seen to be believed. At least he looked like he was having fun in the role. While he and the rest of his entourage have an intimidating presence with some provocative and at times frightening imagery, their habit of being easily outwitted robs them of much of their threatening presence.

Annoyingly, the movie's protagonist Jake, played by Asa Butterfield is not nearly as interesting or engaging. While Butterfield is serviceable in the role his character comes across as less of a fully realised person and more of a vehicle to introduce the audience to this world. His screen time is mainly devoted to asking questions that, while necessary to understanding the environment of the film, severely detract from any potential depth or personality that could have been given to his character. Ultimately he is just a blank slate for the viewer to project themselves onto.

'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children' is more of a world building exercise than a display of worthwhile characters or a riveting plot. 

Result: 4/10

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