miss peregrine's home for peculiar children

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Director: Tim Burton

Genre: Fantasy

Year: 2016

MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN should have been a perfect adaptation opportunity for the talents of Tim Burton. The eerie idea of children who have strange abilities living in insulated time “loops” and the evil monsters who hunt them to eat their eyes could not have been better tailored to Burton’s modus operandi. Unfortunately, mostly due to story issues, both the film and Burton’s vision are not able to achieve their expected full potential.

As in most films directed by Burton, the design in MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN never falters, though it certainly does not raise the bar set by his earlier works. The visual smorgasbord includes deftly-decorated sets and well-chosen locations, painstakingly crafted period costumes, and painterly landscape vistas. The polished art of the film is almost enough to force the story to come together, but the problems plaguing the script are too large for any amount of style to vanquish.

Particularly artful is the terrifying character design of the evil monsters who haunt the “peculiars.” Though these creatures seem to draw inspiration from the sinister internet phenomenon Slender Man, the image of that character (plus tentacles and razor sharp teeth and a macabre ear-to-ear grin) is a delicious visual feast, as it seems so precisely to embody the essence of creepiness.

Also among the stronger parts of MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN are the actors’ performances. All are quite satisfactory, but the villain of the film, Dr. Barron, is the standout of the cast. The character of Dr. Barron is a shapeshifter, portrayed by both Samuel L Jackson and Allison Janney, who succeeds magnificently in playing a seamless single character intent on the destruction of Jake (the protagonist) and the peculiars (humans with unusual abilities or appearances).

miss peregrine's home for peculiar children matching

Matching uniforms not included

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Despite these credits to the film, the experience of watching MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN fatally suffers from the constant nagging of a plethora of questions that are presented at the very beginning. Yes, the audience must learn the rules of the world along with Jake, but while this setup could be particularly engaging, these short-term mysteries turn into long-term annoyances. As they linger, the viewer starts to feel like they shouldn’t be confused anymore…and yet they still are. When exposition is provided, it seems to always come in half-portions and leaves the audience feeling like they’ve skipped a stair. Even facts that the audience infers within the first five minutes are then “revealed” an hour and a half later, despite the fact that it seems like we’re explicitly told the same thing in the beginning.

Once the premise of time travel is introduced in MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN, the audience’s attention is immediately hijacked as we attempt to understand the rules of this particular form of time manipulation. The peculiars have the ability to live in “loops,” or the repetition of a certain chosen day. These loops exit in normal time, so it’s possible for the peculiars to visit the present though they live in the past. At first, we learn about a single time travel “loop” between July 2016 and 1943. This one loop seems easy enough to grasp in terms of understanding the implications. But as the third act begins, the protagonist decides to jump back and forth between various loops and the present. As this occurs, the audience is left in the dust, since the initial explanation of these time loops did not give enough information to comfortably extrapolate the logic of the world.

For example, Jake and the peculiars go from one loop to another, from 1943 to January 2016, and then somehow Jake manages to get back to July 2016, while the peculiars disappear back into 1943. Or does Jake just stay six months behind “current” time? Are there two Jakes now? These questions are never addressed, along with the implication of alternate timelines and whether or not they exist, since it seems like they must in order for Jake to prevent his grandfather’s death by meddling in these time loops.

miss peregrine's home for peculiar children groundhog

Like Groundhog Day. Except it’s intentional. (Yikes.)

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Maneuvering through all these back-and-forth time loops is confusing in its logic, or lack thereof, and the film skips right past any retroactive explanation so that it can show Jake in a heartwarming reunion with his dead-in-the-alternate-timeline grandfather, closely succeeded by yet another heartwarming reunion and romantic first kiss with his grandfather’s ex-girlfriend who hasn’t aged past 16 in 80 years. All this takes place in the span of perhaps five or ten minutes with little-to-no explanation. I suspect that this rush through the resolution of the story is due to a defining flaw in the film: This one movie seems to encompasses the entirety of the book trilogy on which it is based. One must question the wisdom in combining them, since the only other film that has attempted this, 2004’s A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS, also spectacularly failed at accurately translating the source material.

miss peregrine's home for peculiar children hobbit

Why does it seem like they make always make one book into three movies, but three books into one movie?

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MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN is yet another disappointing adaptation of children’s literature. With its changes from the source material and lack of redeeming qualities, both those who have read the books and those who have not will find little to love in this film. MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN may also strike a sour note, as it lingers a few times on needlessly disgusting and disturbing images that may truly scare children, and not in THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS way. The theatrical experience of MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN is a little bit fun, a large bit pretty, and a little bit scary, but if you take it too seriously — or seriously at all — it won’t leave you charmed and you’ll have no fun.

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

Nicole Barraza Keim is a graduate of USC's School of Cinematic Arts and fervent Trekkie. Her passion is promoting positive change in media by creating content about all types of women kicking ass! To keep up with Nicole’s reviews, follow her on Letterboxd at the link above.

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