Jake (Asa Butterfield) is an outcast. He doesn’t have many friends and the only person he really relates to is his grandfather, Abe (Terence Stamp). When Jake was younger, Abe would regale him with tales of Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) and her home for peculiar children. When Abe dies under mysterious circumstances, Jake begins to see a psychiatrist, Dr. Golan (Allison Janney), who suggests that Jake and his father (Chris O’Dowd) take a trip to Wales, where Miss Peregrine’s home is supposed to be. Once in Wales, Jake finds that the home has been destroyed since the 1940s. However, he also finds some children near the site, children he remembers from his grandfather’s stories. Miss Peregrine’s home exists in a time loop and the children who live there, as well as Miss Peregrine herself, all live perpetually in the 1940s in the day prior to the house being destroyed. All the children who live in the house are “peculiars,” which means they have special powers that they are born with, a la the X-Men. Jake finds out that peculiars are constantly hunted by hollowgasts, monsters that feed on the eyes of peculiars. The hollows are led by Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson), who is seeking immortality. Will Jake and the peculiars survive Mr. Barron’s attempts to destroy them? Will you care or even understand what is going on?
This film is a case of a very interesting world with a terrible story laid on top of it. It’s clear that 20th Century Fox was aiming for this to be a new YA film series, but as usual with these things, they failed to make sure that the first film was any good first. While the children and their powers are fun and interesting and this seems like a film that is perfectly suited for Burton’s sensibilities, I found the whole thing to be quite dull. Completely missing from this film is the wit that inhabits the majority of Burton’s other films. Samuel L. Jackson tries to inject some humor into the proceedings, but his character feels like he’s in a completely different film. His tone is so off from the rest of the film’s elements. The second half of this film also makes zero sense with all the time travel nonsense that goes on. The action scenes are sloppy at best and there’s just no real excitement generated.
That being said, I did enjoy the world and the powers that the children displayed. Well, most of them. I found Enoch’s (Finlay MacMillan) to be quite gruesome. Jake immediately connects with Emma (Ella Purnell), a girl who can control air and can float if not anchored to the ground and Purnell is one of the highlights of the film. Butterfield is just all right as the lead here. He has a kind of detached feel to his acting, which worked great in Ender’s Game, but doesn’t work nearly as well here. Eva Green is delightful as Miss Peregrine and I could have used more of her in the film—she spends the majority of the second half of the film in bird form. Sam Jackson looks cool as Barron, but as I mentioned above, his performance is all over the place here. It’s clearly an attempt to give the character some, well, character, but I expected Barron to be far more sinister than how Jackson portrays him. The screenplay by Jane Goldman doesn’t really do anyone any favors as she struggles to balance the world-building with the plot of the film.
Overall, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children introduces a compelling world that I wish was in a better film. It was quite a disappointment and didn’t even turn into the X-Men movie I was earmarking it to be. The world was nicely developed, but it’s a lot of window-dressing for a film with no real story. Skip it.