When I first heard about this film it all sounded strangely like my own rather odd upbringing:
– Big gothic Victorian house, check
– Several strange children wandering around, check
– Living each day like it’s 1943, check
But no, my large family, weird bunch of oddballs that they are (to give you an idea, I’m seen as the normal one) have nothing on Miss Peregrine’s brood of accumulated misfits, or Peculiars, who live in a large gothic orphanage on the Welsh coast. Every day the children relive the same day again and again (it does sound suspiciously like the standard dull middle class 1970s childhood, but it really isn’t).
In their case it’s because during the war, just as a German bomber was about to drop its payload of death and destruction over Miss Peregrine’s house and destroy it and its peculiar inhabitants, she managed to freeze the scene in time for 24 hours. The downside being that each day is that same 1943 day. Miss Peregrine has to reset the loop daily too; if she’s not there, it breaks and the children will start ageing in real time unless they can get to another loop.
The children are living with their eccentrically beautiful guardian and ymbrine (a Peculiar whose talent is to turn into a bird, and to protect children) Miss Alma LeFay Peregrine, played by the divine Eva Green.
The children’s peculiarities include a girl with another mouth at the back of her head, a child with a beehive in his stomach, and an invisible boy, and that’s just the relatively normal ones. These superpowers would (if this film was not too scary in parts for many in its ideal audience of bloodthirsty 4-7 year olds) be considered much more useful than the typical abilities we see in superhero blockbusters. Seriously, why mess about with kryptonite when you can eat dinner as normal then at the same time eat a second dinner with the back of your head.
The story begins not in Wales but in Florida, where teenage Jake (Asa Butterfield), finds his grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp) dying – and missing his eyes, thanks to an attack by a deadly giant monster called a Hollowgast. But he manages to give Jake a message before he succumbs, which sends the teenager to Wales, with his father (a great turn by Chris O’Dowd, perfectly portraying a slacker, birdwatching-obsessed dad who criticises his own father for his lack of parental abilities).
Jake already knows about Miss Peregrine and has seen photos of the strange children, thanks to his grandfather’s bedtime stories, as Abe used to live there. So off they go to a coastal village in misty Wales, notably only for a famous shipwreck in the bay, and still at this point in 2016 (that bit may look as if they’re simply reliving the 1943 weather but I’ve been to Wales and it’s like that a lot).
Once ensconced in the local B&B his dad pays some local kids to take Jake to the ruined children’s home but they abandon him. Arriving at the home alone he spies the Peculiars, who’ve been sent by Miss Peregrine to take him back with them.
The children’s peculiarities are all useful in some way: Fiona can control plants and quickly grows an enormous carrot for supper; Bronwyn is so strong she can pull up the carrot and drag it inside; Olive can create fire by touch and could presumably cook the carrot in about 10 seconds (we don’t actually see her do this though she does boil a kettle with her hands, a talent that should surely be bred into the British tea-drinking population); Claire with a mouth in the back of her head to eat the carrot; and Horace who can project movies of his prophetic dreams onto a screen.
The loop means that every day at the same time the children have to complete certain tasks before Miss Peregrine freezeframes the bomb as it’s about to hit. However sadly they are also in constant danger from Hollowgast attacks, monsters controlled by ymbrine-gone-bad Barron (a deliciously evil Samuel L Jackson with crazy hair and Halloween-lantern pointy teeth). After an experiment went wrong, Barron and his cronies now need to eat the eyeballs of Peculiars to return to their previous states; and there’s a particularly unpleasant meal where they are served with a platter piled high with eyeballs, rather as it the director of The Neon Demon was asked to make a Ferraro Rocher commercial.
When an attack by Barron causes the loop to collapse, the action moves, to, of all places, Blackpool. The showdown between Barron and his partners in crime, and the children, is fun though it does drag on, mainly as Jake takes an age to open one ymbrine-filled birdcage.
And we finally discover the twins’ peculiarity as they show their faces for the first time. (I loved the twins. Kudos to the young actors – twins, even though they didn’t actually need to be – for showing such pathos while completely hidden in what looked like two toilet rolls and a couple of white balaclavas).
The fight on Blackpool Pier is fabulous, and look out for the Tim Burton cameo! Oh no you missed it. Never mind then.
Eva Green holds the screen whenever she appears. Samuel L Jackson has a blast as the ymbrine gone bad and the children are great (even if not all of their peculiarities are. If you were the one who could project your dreams onto a screen I bet you’d secretly spend your time inwardly wailing “but I wanted a mouth in the back of my head!” Also I really wouldn’t want anyone to see my dreams on a big screen).
However Tim Burton has been criticised for the lack of diversity in the cast and I agree. Even bearing in mind the quite low percentage of British people of colour during the 1940s, we already know that Abe is from another country (Poland), so children of different ethnicities could easily be escaping from all over the world to seek refuge with Miss Peregrine. I suspect he just didn’t really think about it.