Creepy yet charming

The villains in Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children chew on the residents in a children's home.
The villains in Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children chew on the residents in a children's home.PHOTO: 20TH CENTURY FOX



127 minutes/Now showing/ 3.5 stars

The story:  Teenager Jake (Asa Butterfield) has been raised on the fantastical stories spun by his grandfather Abraham (Terence Stamp). When Abraham is attacked by a creature only Jake can see, the boy is forced to seek the truth of the stories and it leads him to a place run by the mysterious Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), her home for children with freakish powers. 

When three words come together - creepy, dangerous, funny - the mind turns to Tim Burton, the director behind Edward Scissorhands (1990), Mars Attacks! (1996) and Alice In Wonderland (2010).

Here, he has made sure to retain the source material's fear factor - scenes are properly horrific, especially ones featuring the villains of the story, the Hollows.

With Samuel L. Jackson playing their leader, the shapeshifter Mr Barron, they love to snack on peculiar children, as one longish dinner scene makes clear.

Parents, be warned. This might be nightmare fuel for young viewers.

There is one word, however, that Burton has had trouble with: innocence.

His tone lately is ironic. His Alice might have been in Wonderland, but that sense of wonderment often fell by the wayside while Burton busied himself with the visual intricacies of his made-up universe. 

That obsession with set design is in abundance here, in this adaptation of the 2011 best-selling novel by Ransom Riggs. 

Emma (Ella Purnell) has the peculiar gift of being lighter than air, so needs lead shoes to keep her grounded. The buckle design of her footwear is astonishingly intricate.

When peculiar child Enoch (Finlay MacMillan) uses his powers to temporarily make the dead come alive, they do so in a stop-motion scene that would not be out of place in Burton's stop-motion movies Frankenweenie (2012) and The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). 

These are delightful moments and Burton does this when computer graphics would have been easier and cheaper. 

But the effect of that attention to visual detail pays off.

The film takes its time to get started - not a bad thing when too many fantasy works push up the soundtrack and visual effects levels to maximum from scene one - and it builds.  

The only let-down here is in the acting and casting. Otherwise capable actors such as Stamp, Green and Butterfield are underused. Burton has purged the story of humour in favour of straight drama.

But the wonderment factor is all here. As the children's home is revealed and each one shows off his or her power in an inevitable montage, the effect is charming and, yes, magical.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 30, 2016, with the headline 'Creepy yet charming'. Print Edition | Subscribe