REVIEW: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

We just covered the book of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children  for our September book club, where it met with a rather *ahem* mixed response. As the person responsible for the choice, one of the reasons I suggested this book is because I was intrigued by the trailer for the upcoming film adaptation. While the trailer looked very promising, reading the book did suggest that there may have been some difficulties in adapting it for film. The photograph conceit may have added an extra point of interest in the novel, but would easily hamper the already visual medium of film. The adaptation also has to contend with the book’s somewhat unsatisfactory ending, which is largely concerned with setting up for its sequel – something not guaranteed to the film.

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons for anticipation, but equally trepidation, towards this film comes from its director. Tim Burton established himself as a modern auteur with his early films, but has suffered diminishing critical returns on most of his later features. His last two literary adaptations, 2005’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland from 2010, received particularly harsh criticism. However, Burton appears to be attempting to refresh his style at the moment, parting with frequent collaborators Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter and moving away from his traditional gothic wheelhouse with 2014’s Big Eyes. So could a move to the YA market and the pairing of Burton’s kooky darkness with Rigg’s peculiar children prove a winning formula? After all there are plenty of films that manage to rise above their source material.

SPOILER WARNING: The following review contains minor spoilers for the film and book of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children.

Well, this is certainly not a perfect film. While the Florida scenes in the book held a sweaty spookiness of their own, the first half an hour or so of the film looses this and feels rushed and choppy in its frantic desire to wade through the plot set up and reach the titular Home. These scenes aren’t improved by a lackluster performance from Terence Stamp as Jacob’s grandfather. Stamp fails to deliver the charisma or chemistry with Asa Butterfeld’s Jacob that is needed for a plot spurred into action by the two’s close relationship. Also suffering on the characterisation front is Chris O’Dowd’s underwritten dad, who looses all sympathy he may have entertained in the novel in the translation from page to screen. Nevertheless, there is still plenty to love here and some aspects which improve on the disappointments of the novel.

All film adaptations are forced to differ from their source material, but Miss Peregrine differentiates itself with some wise choices, like toning down the previous relationship between Emma and Abe which we all objected to in our book discussion. While the swapping of Emma and Olive’s powers is not entirely necessary, and will no doubt frustrate much more committed fans of the book, I did like the change from simply levitation to air manipulation which allows for the addition of the beautifully shot underwater scenes. Apart from Terence Stamp, the acting is, by and large, fairly standard and there are few standouts although kudos goes to Samuel L Jackson’s take on Mr. Barron and the pathos Eva Green injects into the often stoic Miss Peregrine in a few scenes. One of my problems with the book was the number of largely undeveloped peculiar children included because of the photography conceit, although the film does not really rectify this it does at least spend time on one of the most fascinating photographs which went ignored in the novel – the masked twins. The moment in which their peculiarity is revealed is one of the highlights of the entire film. I also loved the increased emphasis on the grey morality of Miss Peregrine which was hinted at in the book and the children’s dissatisfaction with being trapped in the time loop. Miss Peregrine also manages to make up for the underwhelming climax of the novel, extending the climactic scenes, giving the other children a more active role, and staging this finale in a fairground ghost town – a setting which perfectly complements the children’s own fun weirdness.

The film reaches its highest points in its most horrific scenes where it achieves the dark tone the book failed to grasp, such as the deeply unsettling, if brief, resurrection of Victor. While these parts might trouble parents who brought younger children along on the basis of the film’s PG-13 rating, witnessing the gruesome transformation of the hollowgast on screen manages to make them both more sympathetic and all the more horrible. Another highlight is the twisted stop-motion animation battle between Enoch dolls, whose Frankenstein’s monster-esque appearance emphasises his own potential darkness and tendency to play God. I also enjoyed the addition of a twisted relationship between him and an aged-up Olive. Much like the film’s approach to the hollows, there is a sweetness to their scenes, but also an undertone of darkness as she delights in his gruesome powers.

Ultimately, this is far from the best Tim Burton film, or the best YA adaptation, but it is an enjoyable effort and seeks admirably to improve on both Burton’s recent output and the flaws of the book.

Rating: 3.5/5

Featured Image: Still from  Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016) © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

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