As you might expect, as usual, I went into this movie with less than high expectations (I think it’s best, it allows you to be pleasantly surprised). After all, so many of the movies based on young adult fiction have all been less than stellar over the last decade or so (I’m honestly trying to think of a movie based on a teen novel that is worth watching before this one, and I’m coming up with a blank…I’m sure there must be one, but I think we can all agree that anything by John Greene, anything with words like Divergent, Twilight and the like are high budget trash not worth filming in the first place—and certainly not worth watching). I was also worried that it was a Tim Burton film. I think it’s fair to say that Tim has gotten lazy and predictable over the last few years in style and content. But thankfully Peregrine’s Home was not only a quality film (still a young adult film but a good one) but also one where Burton seemed to reinvent his style and bring life into it.
Based on the book by Jane Goldman, which I will admit I have not read, it follows the story of Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield) following the death of his grandfather (Terrance Stamp). His grandfather had raised him on odd stories of the foster home he had grown up in; one filled with peculiar children all with special powers (the ability to float, to animate lifeless things, invisibility, etc.) and the entire orphanage is run by the mysterious Miss Peregrine (Eva Green). Trying to recover from loss of his grandfather he goes to seek out this orphanage that filled so many of the stories of his childhood…only to find that they aren’t stories and he’s in the middle of a battle with the forces of darkness.
It’s hard to talk about quality in a young adult movie. It’s not meant to be great film. But I will say they do a good job. I was dazzled by the animated skeletons (which I have little doubt is a homage to the classic Jason and the Argonauts) and rather surprised the turn the skeleton war took this year. Acting especially is difficult to talk about as no one is really going for an Oscar here, and the fact is that after seeing the range and depth of Eva Green’s heart wrenching performance in Penny Dreadful everything else comes off as her just phoning it in because everything must be easy compared to the battles she engaged in that horrific show. Samuel L. Jackson did a wonderfully over the top performance as one of the creepiest villains I’ve seen in a while, with a lot of biting sarcasm, but it’s not exactly difficult for any director to get a great performance out of Jackson either. And the rest of the cast while decent, were in roles that didn’t ask that much of them really (although the supporting cast was remarkably more well-known than you would have thought for a movie like this).
Burton’s style has also hit some new ground. Whereas for the last few years everything has been garishly bright colors and Johnny Depp in odd roles (it looks like Bonham Carter got Depp in the divorce) and more CGI in one scene than Peter Jackson can use in an entire franchise. Thankfully Burton has given up the style that was becoming cliché and stale and while still being the quirky macabre feel that we loved about early Tim Burton (if anything this has a feel somewhere between the first Batman and Beetlejuice). I can only hope that this is a sign that Burton is planning on keeping his style fresh and not falling back into the hopelessly cliché moment of Alice in Wonderland. Sadly thematically, like almost all Burton films, Miss Peregrine’s was lacking beyond a simple good versus evil story line—but for a young adult film that shouldn’t be too unexpected. The theme of those who are different being persecuted was also brought up here, but, again, it was dealt with very little in anyway but a cursory treatment. The story left open the possibility of new material to follow, and I would eagerly go see the sequel if made, but I don’t hold out great hopes that it would be any deeper.
One minor warning, while a young adult film this is not children’s film. Slender men like villains called Hollows and the eating of the eyeballs of their victims not gruesome by today’s modern torture porn horror movie standards, but it certainly might be too much for smaller children.
The movie was all in all fun, and I would even go see a sequel if they make it.