“I knew you were one of us when you were born. It’s time for you to learn what you can do.”
‘Directed by Tim Burton’ is a statement that no-longer has the weight it once carried. Though ‘Frankenweenie’ (2012) remains a delight to watch after regular viewings and ‘Big Eyes‘ (2014) was enjoyable enough it’s been awhile since Burton returned the commercial/critical heights he obtained regularly. Thankfully this film is something of a return to form for Burton and ends up being one of his best movies in years. It’s charming, utterly delightful and littered with moments that are truly Burtonesque.
Jake (Butterfield) is one of life’s loners. He doesn’t fit in at school, doesn’t have any friends and to describe his parents as ‘disinterested’ would be putting it mildly. When a tragedy occurs involving his grandfather, Abe (Stamp), – the only person he has ever felt close to – Jake is lead to Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children. The residents each have strange powers and as he begins to get close to them a perilous threat approaches which could lead to tragedy for them all. Jake must conquer his fears to be the brave tiger his grandfather always thought he could be.
It seems obvious to say but I’ll say it anyway – if you like Burton’s movies you’ll love this. If you don’t like his movies you’ll probably not love this one. Although originally a novel, the first in a trilogy as my friend Beth advises me (Hi Beth!), screenwriter Jane Goldman has then shaped the story to allow it to flourish on the big screen. Although it possess many differences from the book (another Beth factoid) the film works exceptionally well and fits naturally within the Gothic auteur’s back catalogue.
Burton’s most iconic films feature a juxtaposition between entrapment and freedom, typically in the form of Americana. Here the trappings of suburbia are shown within the supermarket works at – it’s reminiscent of the strip mall in ‘Edward Scissorhands‘ (1990) – filled with synthetic light and endless packagings. It is clear that this is a world that Jake feels truly isolated from. The next section of the film leads up to his arrival at the house – it’s filled with humour of varying degrees and a good deal of pathos. It’s once Jake arrives at the house that the magic – the enchanting, captivating and grin-inducing magic – begins.
I’m not going to spend that long going over this section as I fear I’d spoil the magic. Suffice to say it’s a genuine treat to watch. The scenery luscious, the costumes beautiful and the cast are extraordinary. Butterfield continues his reign as a cinematic every-teen; an adolescent on his path of discovery. Be prepared for how little time we actually spend with Miss Peregrine, although Green provides a wonderful performance in actual screentime she has only features for roughly thirty minutes if that. She makes the most of this time however as she reminds us, were it really needed, just how skilled she is. She’s in her element in this role – all eyes and all knowing – and steals your attention within every scene she’s in.
The motley crew of peculiars are utterly charming. There’s a gag involving Millard, the invisible boy, needing to strip off that results in the actor playing him (Cameron King) delivering a line with such a comedic awareness that even though I couldn’t even see him (spoiler- he’s invisible!) I found myself completely cracking up. A special mention has to go to Samuel.L.Jackson’s completely winning performance as the villain – it’s clear that he’s reveling in the role. It’s 1/3 cheesy, 1/3 wicked and 1/3 slightly scary – the kind of memorable villain we don’t get that often any more.
Interestingly enough Jane Goldman, the screenwriter as previously mentioned, also co-wrote the script for ‘X-Men: First Class‘ (2011). That and MPHFPC share a key aspect- that of teacher & students with special abilities. Both films carefully navigate the difficulties of being a teen let alone one with unbelievable abilities. This movie, however, is far more eccentric and a heart-felt kind of spectacle. Go see it and let your freak flag fly!
‘Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children‘ opened in UK cinemas on September 29th. (This review was written after attending a special o2 screening in Islington. Thanks must go to the very lovely o2 reps at the cinema!)
Country: USA Year: 2016 Run time: 127 minutes