Adapting Ransom Riggs’ 2011 young-adult novel would seem like a perfect fit for the macabre imagination of eccentric filmmaker Tim Burton. Too bad he squanders this spine-tingling opportunity. When shy, teenage Jake Portman (bland Asa Butterfield) is summoned to his beloved grandfather’s tract home in suburban Florida, he realizes that the old man is dying, the victim of nefarious thugs. Read on…
But not really. As Grandfather Abraham (Terence Stamp) explains, it’s all connected to the bedtime stories Jake’s heard over the years about leaving Poland just before W.W. II, accompanied by creepy vintage photographs of a bizarre orphanage on a small British island, off the coast of Wales.
With the help of a grief counselor (Allison Janney), Jack convinces his parents (Chris O’Dowd, Kim Dickens) to let him visit his Grandfather’s mysterious island refuge – in hopes of achieving closure.
After extensive exposition, the fun begins when Jack time-travels back to Sept. 3, 1943, to find vampy, pipe-smoking Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), tenaciously guarding her fascinating flock of mutants.
There’s weightless Emma (Ella Purnell), who has to wear lead shoes to anchor her to the ground; Olive (Lauren McCrostle), who dons long gloves because her fingers ignite fires; Enoch (Finlay MacMillan), who re-animates objects so they can fight each other; tiny, mute twins in clown costumes; plus other oddities.
They’re living in a continual 24-hour Loop, just prior to a Nazi bombardment. And ghoulish, invisible monsters called “Hollowghasts,” personified by Barron (Samuel L. Jackson), are determined to acquire that Loop when they’re not gobbling eyeballs.
While initially intriguing, Jane Goldman’s script falters, particularly in the climactic chase sequence, as Burton liberally lifts eerie, Gothic-tinged concepts from “Big Fish,” “Back to the Future,” “X-Men,” “Groundhog Day” and “Harry Potter,” leaving teaser traces for a sequel.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” is a strangely spooky, stylish 6, stumbling when it should soar.