Sweet and scary. That sums up Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Tim Burton’s latest. Sweet because the central relationship in the story is quite touching, and scary because Burton’s gothic horror sensibilities push this firmly into “12A for a reason”. In other words, only take younger children if they can handle the macabre and sometimes gruesome imagery.
The plot concerns Jake(Asa Butterfield), a young man whose grandfather (Terence Stamp) tells him stories from his past about a mysterious island containing a special home run by a Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) for children with special powers. Miss Peregrine protects these children from malevolent forces in the outside world. Although he has long since come to believe his grandfather’s stories are not true, Jake’s life is thrown into disarray when a monster from his grandfather’s stories apparently targets his grandfather, resulting in his death. Jake’s father (Chris O’Dowd) takes him to see a psychiatrist (Alison Janney) after Jake insists he saw this monster and isn’t imagining things. The psychiatrist then suggests Jake go to the island to where his grandfather’s stories supposedly took place to prove they can’t be real. However, once Jake reaches the island, events take a turn for the bizarre. He appears to travel back in time and meet the peculiar children his grandfather knew as a child, including Emma (Ella Purnell) with whom Jake forms and immediate bond, and with whom his grandfather was once romantically involved.
In adapting Ransom Riggs’s novel (which I confess I haven’t read), screenwriter Jane Goldman has done a good job overall, but the narrative does feel somewhat convoluted. That said, performances are all good (Samuel L Jackson and Judi Dench also appear). Burton’s recurrent themes (oddball loner heroes, gothic visuals) are all present and correct to good effect, and in the end the combination of ghoulish thrills and tenderness works very well. One sequence involving skeletons recalls Jason and the Argonauts, and the creepy hollows and Slenderman-esque wights are envelope-pushingly frightening for a family audience – always a good thing in my book.
In summary, this is definitely recommended to Burton fans, despite the flawed plot. Again I would reiterate the warning about taking younger children. Some will perhaps find its message about protecting the vulnerable and finding courage quite empowering. Others might find it too frightening. Adults on the other hand are like to find it quite poignant. Sweet and scary indeed.