Review: 'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children' Tests the Limits of What Will Terrify Children
By John Boone
20th Century Fox
Is Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children Tim Burton's best movie? Heavens, no. But is it better than that other Tim Burton movie where Johnny Depp plays a vampire? Yes. Is it a tad too long, with a runtime clocking in somewhere over two hours? Yes. Does a boy fall in love with the same girl his grandfather fell in love with 60 years earlier? Yes. Are certain scenes as captivatingly cool as they are horrifying? Yes.
If you're wondering whether you should see Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, well, the yeses are stacking up!
The movie, based on the series of young adult novels by Ransom Riggs, centers on Jake (Asa Butterfield), a tween peculiar in a whole host of ways. A visit to his grandfather takes a turn when Jake finds the old man bloody and eyeball-less in the woods and receives somewhat vague, absolutely insane instructions to visit a remote Welsh island and find Miss Peregrine (Eva Green, devouring scenery, spitting it back up, and chewing it all over again as a sort of Scary Poppins) and her titular home for her titular peculiar children.
Jake does as he's told and meets a cast of characters whose peculiarities include air floating, fire hands, super strength and a girl who can grow large carrots. Miss P.'s own peculiarity is rather complex: she can turn into a bird, but is also able to create time loops, which she's done to preserve her home on one particular day in 1943. If you started scratching your head as I got into loops, it's not because I'm explaining it poorly. There's much ado about loops in the movie, which proves fun enough, but think about it too hard and I guarantee you will only be more confused.
Burton has assembled a stacked cast -- as the opening titles rolled across the screen, I let out a shriek of, "Allison Janney is in this?!" She is! As is Judi Dench, for some reason! -- and through his eye, they are all beautifully shot, as is everything else the lens glances. (Great homes! Beautiful homes!) In his hands, the master of macabre has crafted something of a ghost story -- with time travel.
Now, here's a bit about how the sausage is made, as far as movie reviews are concerned: reviewers get a chance to see movies before they're released in theaters, though the downside to that is I'm often seeing movies exclusively with other adult journalists. At 27, I'm far enough removed from childhood that I don't remember as what it was like to be a child and far enough away from having my own child to be reminded, so I have a tenuous grasp on what kids are like these days. I bring this up, because this movie might scar your child for life. (Maybe. I can't say for sure.)
Take, for example, one scene involving a peculiar named Enoch (Finlay MacMillan), whose peculiarity is that he can put hearts in objects and make them come to life, essentially. He reveals this gift using stop-motion monsters he created -- think Sid from Toy Story -- that battle to the death. "It's even more fun with people!" he coos in delight as one puppet stabs the other puppet through the heart. The adults in my theater giggled, though I suspect it was in shock. That's all before Samuel L. Jackson shows up as a mad scientist who likes slurping on the eyeballs of dead children and looooves an evil monologue, accompanied by monsters that are a cross between Slender Man and Stranger Things.
Oh, and it's 1943. So, there are Nazis.
All that said, maybe it's not meant for children. I leave it open to your own interpretation that I was genuinely surprised when I found out afterward that Miss Peregrine is rated PG-13 -- for "intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and peril" -- and is not for the 8- to 12-year-old crowd I'd assumed. Or maybe it is and that's the point of this coming-of-age fable, as one scene late in the movie see Miss P. haranguing the fact that her job is to project her children, so she will not discuss unpleasant matters with them. To which Jake retorts, "I'm not a child."
Short of borrowing your child for the next screening -- unless you're cool with that? -- I will settle on this: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children might give your kids nightmares, but the ones it doesn't are in for a wicked good ride.