Directed by Tim Burton, starring Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Samuel L.Jackson, Ella Purnell, Dame Judi Dench, Rupert Everett, Allison Janney, Chris O’Dowd, Terence Stamp. When Asa Butterfield’s character Jacob is left a task by his late Grandfather to find the home for peculiar children that he once attended, Jacob discovers a sinister plot awaiting him.
This film is based on a series of books, the first of which came out in 2011, and it is really quite clear which materials have heavily influenced the writer. The best summation I can make of this film is Harry Potter crossed with X-Men as interpreted by the director Tim Burton. A group of students with genetic mutations who live in a house that can only be seen by their own kind, where children and teenagers live and learn to control their abilities, who are being hunted by a sinister character searching for eternal life, sounds eerily familiar yes?
The home of Miss Perergrim has been placed in a time loop during World War II by the guardian of the house, meaning they continually relive the same day. There are several of these homes dotted around the world each stuck in a particular period of time in order to protect the children from the villainous monsters. This sounds like an intriguing premise until you expand the theory and realise how bloody miserable they must be living in groundhog day, which also means they are stuck in whatever age they were when the spell was first cast. So for this particular house, the characters are all stuck as children and teenagers, for the most part, barring Eva Green’s character, nightmare!
The villains of the piece, lead by maniacal but humorous Samuel L. Jackson, are ‘Hollowman’, scientists who have performed experiments on themselves and thus been transformed into weird monsters. Jackson’s character is trying to regain his true human form by eating the eyes of children because they are youthful and innocent or something convoluted and Burton esqe. The ‘Hollowmen’ are creatures, invisible to the normal eye, rather like the horses that pull the carriages at Hogwarts in Harry Potter. They are also the spitting image of the Slenderman, an urban myth and the villain of a popular game series, that has received a Burton inspired design for the film. Again I do not know how faithful this film as an adaption to the books, but I can’t help feel Burton has been a particularly heavy influence on the style and creation.
One thing I was trying to ascertain whilst watching this film was which age group this meant for? I would have initially guessed children but honestly, some of the darker scenes would give any child nightmares for months, did I mention the whole eating the eye of children thing. If it is aimed at adults then I judge Jane Goldman who wrote the adapted script. I normally enjoy her work, but she has overly simplified everything with very little intelligent stimulation and the tone is really misjudged. This is one of the biggest issues with the film, it does not seem to understand what it is, one moment it’s quite a lovely child’s film, and the next it’s the stuff of nightmares.
Finally, the film has for the most part been miscast. Asa Butterfield is an actor I last saw in ‘Ender’s Game’ where he played Ender Wiggin, a really well-developed character, with an emotional understanding and intensity that was engaging to watch. His role here as Jake is quite frankly appalling, his pacing and reactions are continually slightly off and there is a definite lack of believability in his performance.
On the subject of reactions, I’m not overly sure what the crowds of people were told in the various crowd shots, but their reaction to the monsters is continually stuck on either underreaction or something out of a pantomime. Ironically there is a blink and you will miss it shot of the director Tim Burton who has a monster thrown at him on a rollercoaster ride, his surprised reaction is actually quite good.
Eva Green plays Miss Peregrine, and on the whole, she’s believable as someone who has taken charge of the children, her love for them is sincere, believable and her reactions are quite genuine to behold. Perhaps I’m being overly critical, but there is something that does not quite work with her in this role, despite her sincerity.
By far the best acting comes from Dame Judie Dench, Ruper Everett and Alison Janney, though sadly none of them appears for very long, clearly meant to grab your attention with their names appearing in the opening credits. All three provide the best performances of the film, it’s just a shame they couldn’t stick around a tad longer than 5 minutes each.
I can only summarise this film as a misfire, an attempt to try and create a series of films based on the success of Harry Potter whilst tapping into a host of inspired material. They are really trying hard to find a new direction with this narrative, but are continually drowned by the more prominent material this film has clearly been influenced by. There’s even a moment where Jackson’s character uses an axe to get through a door, at which point I was genuinely expecting him to say “here’s Johnny”. Though visually it’s interesting at times, it never quite wows in the way it was designed to.
I’m not entirely sure who is to blame for this film having never read the books. It would seem very fortuitous if the style of the books were similar to Burton’s odd weird and sometimes wonderful visions. It was only after watching this film, going onto its IMBD page that was shocked to discover Jane Goldman to be the one who had adapted the screenplay, I have no idea what went wrong in this overly simplistic and predictable script, but a step has indeed been missed somewhere.
OVERALL ** A failed attempt at something really quite weird and at times overtly dark. Some kind of clash clearly happened between Burton, Goldman and the books resulting in an awkward film in tone.
RECCOMENDATION – Just don’t watch this film, and certainly do not let your children watch it.