Miss Peregrine’s home for Peculiar Children movie cast: Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Ella Purnell, Samuel L Jackson, Terence Stamp
Miss Peregrine’s home for Peculiar Children movie director: Tim Burton
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children didn’t just have to fight the demons in its own world. One peculiar child who could have been a problem was Tim Burton, a director who revels in eccentricity, preferably of the dark kind. Separated from favourite actor Johnny Depp, who brings in his own brand of dippy-ness, Burton helms this group of vulnerable children with a sure, firm hand.
And that is the operative part here — “vulnerable”. Unlike other films of a similar nature, of kids with unnatural or supernatural powers, here the children, very young to almost adult, never look like they can make their way out alive. And that is what makes us care for how this mission works out.
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Burton begins the film quite like his Mr Edward Scissorhands — in a neighbourhood depressingly uniform and orderly, in persistently sunny Florida. Here lives a boy, Jake (Butterfield), working in a mall with many similarly neat stacks of goods, who nobody notices, including his parents. The only disruptive influence in Jake’s life is grandfather Abe (a superb Stamp), who has been telling him stories about monsters, with “real” photographs, for as long as he can remember, and pushing him in the direction of Ralph Waldo Emerson. When Abe dies a brutal death telling Jake those stories were true, Jake relives those monsters till his parents agree to take him to a Wales island Abe wanted him to visit.
Here resides Miss Peregrine in a castle with a household of peculiar children, based on a best-selling series by Ransom Riggs. Green revels in her role of an ymbryne called Peregrine, who can take the form of a bird and who like other ymbrynes is entrusted the job of keeping children deemed peculiar in safe care. Ymbrynes do so by forming “time loops” where a “perfect day” keeps repeating for eternity, retaining the children in it, but also ensuring they never grow old or experience the world. In the case of the time loop created by Miss Peregrine on the Wales island, that “time loop” is the day Germans dropped a bomb on the house in 1943 — and, to the outside world, killed them all.
There is a sad underpinning to this story, including in Abe’s escape from Poland, to this house where “strange” children are sent away to safehouses in the countryside, and in the bombing that could have killed them all. However, Burton doesn’t explore the Nazi undertones.
Instead, he sketches each of the characters with some care, particularly Emma (a great performance by Purnell), the girl light as a feather who must wear lead boots to keep from floating. When she takes her boots off, Jake, who almost immediately falls in love with her, keeps a firm grasp on a rope tied around her waist, so that she floats above him — a scene with so many possibilities that the film never explores.
While Jake is familiarising himself with Miss Peregrine and her wards, and with his grandfather’s other life, the film is a delight. However, when the “hologausts” (yes, another Nazi reminder) enter the picture, the film starts dragging. These hologausts go after the eyes of peculiars, to gain human form, and are commandeered by Baron (Jackson), who wants to tap into ymbryne powers to make himself immortal.
The encounters are unimpressive, but mercifully short. It’s when the film starts going into different time loops, different years, different places, different ymbrynes, that the peculiar ends up becoming impenetrable.