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Movie Review: More Poor than Peculiar

Tim Burton has been inconsistent with his movies the last decade, with both masterpieces (Sweeney Todd, Big Eyes) and blunders (Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows) as of late. I’m sorry to say his latest film, Miss Peregrine, finds Burton having a field day making the movie unpleasant and disturbing, with few redeeming qualities.

The story, based on the popular children’s novel by Ransom Riggs, has an interesting premise for young adults. It follows a teenage Floridian named Jake (Asa Butterfield, in top form) who goes on a quest to find a mysterious house in Wales where his grandfather (Terence Stamp) once lived.

After finding the house, the residents appear to be, oh my!, somewhat peculiar, with each child being gifted with a not-quite-a-superpower, ranging from manipulating elements to odd bodily functions. The house is looked after by Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) herself, and soon they must all together to protect themselves from some really terrifying monsters.

If you’ve seen the trailers, it seems like a good set up for a blockbuster, and a great balance between mature, steadfast content with a whimsy and appeal for families. The press and buzz, however, highlight the only entertaining and really joyful moments in a rather depressing movie.

Photo credit: 20th Century Fox. | Photo credit: 20th Century Fox. | 20th Century Fox
Photo credit: 20th Century Fox. | Photo credit: 20th Century Fox. | 20th Century Fox

But even worse, it seems that Burton’s main focus on the meat of what happens is to make the viewing audience as uncomfortable as possible. Early on, for instance, there is an awkward moment where a father tries to compare the “monsters” in a storybook to grandpa’s “monsters of war” in 1943, without specifying the Nazi party. The scene lasts way too long, and if you bring kids who don’t know what the Holocaust is, you’ll have a difficult time afterwards answering their questions .

Another (sadly) memorable scene shows one character’s “peculiarity” as giving life to inanimate toys by stuffing them with real - yes, real - human organs, including hearts and intestines. He then proceeds to make the toys engage in a graphic and poorly rendered stop-motion animation knife fight, where one toy victoriously displays a beating human heart on a steak knife.

Those are two examples of the dramatic action, and it poses the question: is this movie for children, families, or adults? It’s far too dark and violent for kids, too shallow for families, and too playful and insipid for adults. Peregrine doesn’t seem to be appropriate for anybody at all.

Much of the A-list celebrity cast is clearly working hard, though it’s tough with such an ineffective screenplay by Jane Goldman. Within 15 minutes there’s lines of dialogue like “I should’ve told you years ago” (as a character dies), “Don’t believe them, they’re just kid’s stories”, or best of all, a narrator saying “That was the day everything changed.”

The action unfolds in a predicable way; and  if you’ve seen the preview, there are no surprises. Suspenseful at times, but nothing has impact when it slogs on for over two hours. The visuals are sharp, though, and one scene of triumph is the resurfacing of a cruise ship. Very cool.

Burton clearly has a distinct vision for the movie, and has worked hard to keep it cohesive. The problem is that the vision for this story is so unlikable, and unpleasant to watch. It’s no fun, and terribly gruesome. Gore this intense, however fantasy-like, does not belong in a family movie.

I can’t recommend seeing Miss Peregrine to anyone other than fans of the book, though it can’t be a large fan base. I have four younger siblings all under 20, and none of them had even heard of the story until the trailer was seen. There’s great family choices like Storks and Kubo still playing; these remain much better choices.

There’s clearly so much effort that was invested into this movie. It’s disappointing that the creative team focused on the darkness of a twisted world, instead of the joy and heart of its source material. That alone is a peculiar decision indeed.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

1 1/2 out of 4 Stars

PG, 127 minutes, Dark Fantasy Adventure.

Directed by Tim Burton.

Starring: Asa Butterfield, Eva Green, Ella Purnell, Terence Stamp, and Samuel L. Jackson.

Opens Friday September 30, 2016 at Film.Ca, Winston Cineplex, and Oakville Cineplex & VIP.