Tim Burton's Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is a wildly imaginative, but uneven film. Some parts are fantastically dark, creepy, and intriguing. Then it loses steam and flatlines like a bad EKG test. I was completely unaware of the novel by Ransom Riggs, but may actually give it a read after watching this movie. The plot is extraordinary, a high concept story. It's tailor made for Burton's directing style. The film succeeds more often than not, but fails to achieve its true potential.
Avoid plot spoilers. Half the fun is just figuring out what the heck is going on in the story. I'll summarize briefly. Asa Butterfield stars as Jake Portman, a gangly teenager in suburban Florida. He spent his childhood regaled with tall tales by a vivacious grandfather (Terence Stamp). His grandfather's mysterious death prompts Jake to question the veracity of the stories. His quest will lead him to a remote island near Wales, where the mysterious Miss Peregrine (Eva Greene) cares for a brood of truly peculiar children.
The world depicted is delightfully sinister. It comes to life through excellent production design and visual effects. This is Burton's forte, macabre, yet playful, humorous; but fraught with danger. It is a dark fairy tale brought to life. The children are the scene stealers. Their amazing powers, some incredibly ghastly, are a wonder to see. Burton has excelled at giving the gruesome heart beyond a hideous exterior. He also has frightening villains that are the stuff of the worst nightmares. If only Miss Peregrine could have kept this level of interest throughout the entire film.
The problem here is the dull stretches. You're completely enthralled, then bored silly almost immediately after. This happens repeatedly. It's like taking a rollercoaster that goes up and down to the point where the ascent becomes trivial. The script is written by Jane Goldman, a very competent screenwriter who usually works for Director Matthew Vaughn. My feeling is that Tim Burton worked lavishly on adapting the magical elements, but dialed in the between scenes. That's a recipe for mediocrity. Burton could have hit this one out of the park, if not for these issues.
Eva Green and Samuel L. Jackson, who plays the villain, are the standouts. They chew up their monologues with gusto. Green is particularly entertaining with her snappy delivery and constantly wicked smirk. She rarely plays a boring character and continues that streak here. Asa Butterfield is the lead, but doesn't have much charisma. That may have been the key to his casting. Jake spends much of the film trying to discover if a plain boy can also be peculiar.
Arriving from 20th Century Fox, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children could have been great, but falls short. It's totally worth seeing for the scary bits and highly original plot. It needed more editing to shave down the two hour plus runtime. Tim Burton needs to direct a play or do a minimalist film to shore up his storytelling technique. He's made great films in his career, but I feel is getting lost in stylistics lately. Young children may be terrified by some of the imagery in this film. The Hollowgasts are quite freaky.