Tim Burton’s films generally strike me as being lurid examples of style over content. Heavily reliant on special effects and lairy eye candy, they just don’t do it for me (okay, I’ll pay Big Eyes). With few exceptions, they come across as children’s movies, so it should not surprise that his latest is, in fact, aimed at kids. Unfortunately, it is all over the place like a mad woman’s breakfast, with a time-jumping narrative that lurches unsteadily and frequently from 1943 to the present day.
The establishment scenes are particularly poor – perfunctorily written and badly acted, they set an uninspiring benchmark that is not much improved upon by any amount of CGI that follows. As Jake, the adolescent hero, Asa Butterfield displays the vitality of a sleepwalker as he discovers how he fits into the scheme of things at an orphanage off the coast of Wales. Run by Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), its occupants live the same day in 1943 over and over.
Weird kids on screen have the greatest impact when they are in nearly every way normal – none of those glass-eyed boys in The Village Of The Damned (1960) needed to have a mouth in the back of their head to make you take notice. But that was B&W 1960, and we have arrived at the point where only excess and a climax every ten minutes will appease thrill-seeking audiences.
A stellar cast is involved in a plot that that gets more Byzantine and brain-breaking the longer it goes. Terence Stamp is Jake’s dead grandfather (who isn’t really dead), Samuel L Jackson in overdrive, Allison Janney and the adorable Rupert Everett are all the same evil person, Judi Dench ends up at the bottom of a cliff and Chris O’Dowd, as Jake’s dad, drinks beer and watches darts on TV. Ella Purnell, who is lighter-than-air Emma, steals the show when she swims underwater to the sunken liner, but in all honesty, I didn’t have a clue what was going on.