Ransom Riggs wrote his book Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children around a set of vintage photos he had found at various flea markets. Each photo had children in them, but there was something, well peculiar about them — one girl floated inches above the ground, a brother and sister could lift weight twice their size, one boy was made of bees and a set of twins wore creepy masks. It was these photos that Riggs based his main characters off of, and it was these photos that gave his already intriguing and mysterious young adult fantasy adventure a new sense of wonderment. These pictures briefly make an appearance in Tim Burton’s latest but not enough to capture the spine-tingling mystery they serve in the book.
The absence of the pictures are indicative of Peculiar Children’s biggest problem — there’s no sense of discovery. The story follows 16 year-old Jake (Asa Butterfield), who finds an orphanage of children with special abilities on a small island in Wales, the very same orphanage filled with the very same children Jake’s grandfather used to tell him stories about. The orphanage is stuck in a time loop, constantly repeating the day September 3, 1943 by Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), an Ymbryne, a peculiar who can change into a bird and create and maintain time loops. The time loop is where the peculiars hide both from the outside world and from those who hunt them down for their power.
Most of this is explained in dialogue. Actually, it’s all explained through dialogue. Exposition after exposition, Jake and the audience are bombarded with information, all within the first ten minutes Jake shows up at Miss Peregrine’s. There’s no “Harry Potter seeing Hogwarts for the first time” moment or genuine meetings between Jake and the peculiars because by the time he gets there, all the children already know who he is because they all once knew Jake’s grandfather. Because of this, we don’t get to know the children beyond their peculiarity. We barely get any time to spend with the kids before the film’s main source of conflict shows up in the form of a wild eyed and wild haired Samuel L. Jackson, one of those corrupted peculiars seeking immortality by experimenting on Ymbrynes. It’s a source of conflict that’s not particularly interesting, even with giant monsters stealing the eyes of the children, and that’s because there’s not a lot of time to feel the tension presented by Samuel L. Jackson and his small army of hollowgasts.
The saving grace is Eva Green. She’s magnificent as Miss Peregrine, a gothic Mary Poppins. The most genuine moments in this film is when she’s caring for the children, most notably the scene when her devastation for the death of Victor is evident and felt, and finally, when she keeps the children safe from Samuel L. Jackson. Alongside the greatness of Eva Green, though, is the under-utilization of other characters, such as Judy Dench, Jackson, and some of the other children. In an effort to get all the information across, other, more interesting aspects, are pushed aside.
Oddly, and despite all that, Burton still manages to make this film not terrible. It’s okay. It does it’s job for a young adult film adaptation, though some of the changes from book to film, including the ending, don’t hold up well. There are some particularly disturbing images — Enoch’s distorted puppets who fight to the death, for example — that fall in line in with gothic imagery and the season of Halloween that is upon us. It’s enough to garner an interest in this world and to want to learn more about it. There are multiple books in Riggs’ series, but I’m not sure how the change to the end of this film will affect future films, if we were to get another. On a scale of Harry Potter to Twilight, in terms of young adult film adaptations, Peculiar Children falls somewhere in the middle. All of the aspects are there, they just don’t form together to make a really great and memorable film. Unlike the photos that are integrated flawlessly into Riggs’ book, images of a disturbing and haunting beauty that will never leave you, the film only leaves you with a few great moments, but they’re hard to cling to when surrounded by a story that lacks the proper substance.