Review: ‘Miss Peregrine’ Is An Effective First Step Into A Weird World

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is a whimsical trip into a dark, vibrant and yet very obscure world. Fans of the wildly popular young adult series written by Ranson Riggs will be pretty pleased with the final product. Tim Burton shows audiences once more why he is a master of art direction, if very little more these days, as he creates a world of visual splendor and narrative twists that are intriguing and ominous.

Miss Peregrine is a story centered around a teenage boy named Jake (Asa Butterfield), who is driven to investigate his late grandfather’s (Terrance Stamp) past at a special home for children in Wales. What’s surprising is, within this simple enough narrative, there is an ample amount of melancholy woven into the tapestry of goth expressionism. And on top of that, a sprinkle of menace Burton-izes things.

Critics are already treating the film as “low hanging fruit” and bashing it because of a simplistic narrative, or because it’s not “dark enough” for their taste. Sure, Miss Peregrine has a simplistic narrative, because the film isn’t targeting adults; it certainly is targeting pre-teens who loved the book. Furthermore, if Burton had created a “darker” film, that sort of thematic decision wouldn’t stay true to Riggs’ original source material. Sometimes, it’s fun to bash a film just for the sake of bashing it in lieu of typical analysis.

Now this film isn’t perfect, quite the contrary. Miss Peregrine certainly has its issues. Asa Butterfield’s performance is wooden and exists on surface levels alone. Had Butterfield worked to emphasize Jake is a pre-teen going through a tumultuous moment in his life, the performance would have found more depth. He did see the part in the book where his grandfather was murdered … right? Under normal circumstances, an actor who plays his or her character in such a hollow manner would be enough to derail a film, but the other elements keep it from falling off the cliff.

I certainly wasn’t thrilled with how the writers didn’ stay true to the narrative of the first book. Jane Goldman has taken Ransom Riggs textured material and chopped it up into smaller chunks while sequencing it in a manner that makes sense to a select few. Why would you create more work for yourself when the source material was strong enough already? We didn’t see screenwriters doing this to J.K Rowling’s work. It feels like the sort of chop-shop job studios performed on Percy Jackson and  The Lightning Thief. Both screenplays came from strong source material, yet neither screenwriter trusted the source.

One of the highlights is Eva Green’s performance (a highlight of any project in which she’s involved) in the title role of Miss Peregrine. She isn’t over the top and exudes a silent strength. When Riggs writes about Miss Peregrine, he makes references to her demeanor on multiple occasions. Seeing Green nail this down is the definition of pages coming to life.

The cinematography highlights these children and their peculiarities in a very engaging manner. Bruno Delbonnel (who last worked with Burton on Big Eyes) uses light and shadow to capture the innocence of these children and the beauty in each of their peculiarities. One scene that sticks out is seeing Jake holding on to Emma (Ella Purnell) with a rope as she’s floating (her peculiarity is that she’s lighter than air) while they’re on the beach. Delbonnel shoots the scene as if he was framing a framed portrait, capturing the rich scenery of the beach while also capturing both Jake and Emma’s reactions while “walking” on the beach together (young love?).

The film isn’t perfect but it’s definitely effective in launching what most certainly will be the start of a trilogy based on Riggs’s work.  It’s an entertaining film that’s held back in large part due to a poor performance from the lead actor. Burton is the best choice to direct this maiden voyage into Riggs’s very peculiar universe, and we can only hope he will come back stronger for the sequel.

Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
I'm a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and have been doing reviews for many years. My views on film are often heard in markets such as Atlanta, Houston, and satellite radio. My wife often tolerates my obsession for all things film related and two sons are at an age now where 'Trolls' is way cooler than dad. Follow me on twitter @mrsingleton.