Jake (Asa Butterfield) is a bland and unhappy teen, raised listening to the fantastic bedtime stories of his Grandfather (Terence Stamp). When his grandfather dies under mysterious circumstances at the hand of an invisible monster that only Jake can see, he sets off to find the orphanage in the stories. Once there, he meets the “peculiar” children, each with a magical ability, as well as Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), who looks after them by looping time, repeating the same day in 1943 forever. He also discovers that he too, is peculiar.
Director Tim Burton teamed up with Eva Green to make a goth-lite, weird tale: What could go wrong?
The title of the film brings to mind quirky, period fun. A better title would have been “A Passive Teen In The Land Of Exposition.” For an hour and thirty minutes, nothing happens and our lead does absolutely nothing but doubt things and act fearfully while the world is explained to us. Yes, there is a mystery of sorts, but the viewer knows all the answers ninety minutes early. There’s a bit of an unearned romance which is mainly characters telling us that there is a potential relationship, but nothing more. All of which could be forgiven if the characters were enjoyable to watch. But the lead is tedious, the peculiar children are quite plain, and Miss Peregrine acts stupidly just to keep the plot moving.
It also doesn’t help that all the great dangers would vanish if anyone bought a gun. I know that’s a terribly American thing to say, but guns do exist.
The film perks up at the end with a silly battle that exists only for the sake of having a battle. But a fight can be fun even if it is ridiculous. Samuel L. Jackson chews up the scenery, which isn’t exactly good but does have energy, and the children get to use their substantial powers for something other than returning lost squirrels to trees.
The obvious comparison is to Harry Potter: springing from a YA book, magical children live together while hidden from the normal world, finding their way as they are hunted by a great evil power. But Harry is active, and likeable. If someone had worked out the “show don’t tell” bit, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children could have been a reasonable second tier teen fantasy. Instead, the last quarter shows enough life to make watching it on TV for free barely worth the time.