The UHF of the film world.
Latest news

rochefort [Celluloid 09.28.16] fantasy adventure

A remote, gorgeous mansion that offers safe haven to children with special powers. A kindly guardian who protects these children, not only from the outside world but from hostile adults with nefarious intentions and their own blend of special powers. A young man who seeks out this collection of beautiful freaks in the hopes of learning more about his own past. Sound familiar? "Tim Burton's X Men" aka Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children puts the ole Burtonesque spin on a different superhero formula (the first being Batman, of course), and if it sounds like I'm being snarky with that comparison, I'm not.

Burton's filmography has its share of lows, highs, and incredibly highs, and whenever he puts out a new movie, I imagine some of the fans who grew up with his early work just don't get as excited as they used to. I've made my peace with his body of work, less concerned with whether or not he'll ever make another Edward Scissorhands or Ed Wood and more with the fact that, other than a few copycats, he's still a one-man genre. His latest is an adaptation of the novel by Ransom Riggs, a story of gifted youngsters ("peculiars") who exist outside of our own world by seeking refuge in time loops, 24-hour endlessly repeating cycles of a given day that allow them a certain amount of anonymity and relative safety.

When Jake (Asa Butterfield) goes in search of one of these after the death of his estranged grandfather (Terence Stamp), his quest leads to a Welsh orphanage that was demolished during WWII by Nazi bombers. He happens upon the aforementioned loop and is taken back in time to the day of the bombing, where he finds the orphanage not only fully intact but full of a number of odd children with special abilities, including matter-manipulator Enoch (Finlay MacMillan), lighter-than-air Emma (Ella Purnell), and the overseer of the group, Miss Peregrine (Eva Green). Peregrine is an Ymbryne, one of a group of benevolent beings who have been charged with watching over the world's peculiars in self-imposed exile around the world, and she's the one who resets the time loop every night. Jake's arrival is both a blessing and a curse, as he may have exposed Miss Peregrine's brood to the hollowgasts, evil, power-obsessed adult peculiars led by Barron (Samuel L. Jackson, who's having some major fun here), and who hope to gain immortality by eating the eyes of as many peculiar children as they can catch.

Author Riggs' source material and Burton's filmmaking style are about as perfect a marriage as one could hope for (although I still hold out hope that one day Burton will do Lovecraft or an Edgar Allen Poe biography). The result is a movie that follows quite a few familiar beats, but in this case feels less like a rehashing and more like old-fashioned Burton storytelling, which is what most of us want from him anyway.

All the warm-blanket tropes are here, from the crooked architecture and lush period costumes and decor down to Burton's continued fascination and sympathy for the outsider. Our cultural perspective on weird has changed a bit since we were first introduced to Pee Wee and Beetlejuice, and whether it's intentional or not, the story this time around doesn't focus much on the shaky relationship between the peculiars and the "normal world".

Once it's established that peculiars just don't fit in and have therefore retreated to their respective hiding places, the real plot is about the ages-old conflict between different generations of the gifted. It's a very smart deviation, not only from Burton's typical work but from what we've come to expect from most outsider stories, and it allows us to spend almost half the runtime just enjoying the tour. And CGI or not, the villains here, the hollowgasts, are genuinely effective, like creepy, stilt-legged offspring of Jack Skellington and Spider-Man's Venom, and there's a real sense of genuine menace whenever they're on screen.

If you've given up on Burton, and just can't abide sitting through another one of his goth-drenched fantasies, then this movie will certainly not change your mind. The man knows what he likes and you could debate all day as to whether or not he's taking any risks at this point in his career. For every Beetlejuice there's an Alice in Wonderland, for every Sweeney Todd there's a Dark Shadows. The fact that his next scheduled movie is a Beetlejuice sequel doesn't exactly fill me with joy, but it doesn't provoke dread, either. Burton is a director who has had ups and downs, but he's never stayed down, and I personally believe that when his source material is good, he's great. Miss Peregrine is definitely good, definitely surpassed my expectations, and is easily recommendable.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children opens September 30.

Recommended Release: The Tim Burton Collection + Hardcover Book

You might also like

Leave a comment