Director Tim Burton's adaptation of Ransom Riggs' time-travelling, gothic novel about children with peculiar abilities is filled with immaculate costumes, imaginative monsters and an overall attention to detail that you don't get at the movies every day.
It's what you expect from the director of Alice in Wonderland, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Edward Scissorhands - and if you're familiar with the novel you'll understand how well the director and this story are suited.
It does take a little while to get cranking - largely because the story begins in a supermarket in present-day suburban Florida; not Burton's natural homeground. It's here we meet Jake (Butterfield), a nerdy, nice boy with two uninterested parents (Chris O'Dowd and Kim Dickens), and an imaginative grandfather (Terence Stamp), who dies in mysterious circumstances.
It's Jake who finds his dying grandfather; an experience which leaves him with nightmares and in need of therapy. It's at this point you start noticing the interesting casting. Allison Janney is perfect as Jake's therapist and you immediate want to book in for your own session, but it's awkward watching O'Dowd in a selfish, aloof role. He's great as a father apathetic about parenting, but it seems a waste not to give him more than a single funny line.
For a "family fantasy" Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is light on humour; even the quirky elements (the children's incredibly strange gifts for instance) are given weight. It's nice to see a story about being different taken seriously; but at more than two hours and with some complex time-travel to get your head around, a few more laughs wouldn't have hurt.
If you can ignore a plot hole or two, and grasp the time travel, you'll find a film filled with delightful and slightly macabre ... well, peculiarity. After convincing his parents a trip to where his grandfather grew up on a Welsh island is the best thing for his state of mind, Jake discovers another world where children with genetic mutations live safely away from the rest of the world. It's a period drama version of X-Men, except these children live in a 24-hour loop - which is repeated every day to keep them safe.
The children are guarded by an "ymbrine", who is able to manipulate time; Miss Peregrine, played to perfection by Eva Green. Clever, caring, and always right, Miss Peregrine nurtured Jake's grandfather Abe until he mysteriously decided to leave the group as a young man. When Jake finds the entrance to Miss Peregrines' loop he's amazed to discover his grandfather's ageless friends living the same day in 1943 over and over.
With an incredible range of talents and curses - from invisibility, strength, fire-starting, gravity defying, and having a bee's hive inside your body - Jake's new friends are an interesting bunch. It's in this dreamlike, alternative world that Burton's excels. At first, it's unclear what Jake is doing among these people, but when an evil "peculiar" scientist called Baron (Samuel L. Jackson) and his goons, know as Hallows, starts hunting down peculiar children, Jake's mission becomes apparent.
Jackson is one member of the cast who has some fun with his lines, and is able to travel through time without standing out quite as much as the others. A present-day battle between Barron's baddies and Jake's makeshift kids' army on the Blackpool pier enlivens the film - a welcome break from dealing with Jake's internal turmoil. Judi Dench also livens things up briefly - she appears in what is nothing more than a cameo - but as you expect from the Dame, shakes things up somewhat.
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is a moody, spooky film that may be a touch nightmarish for very young audiences; with its eyeball dinner parties, faceless monsters and white-eyed baddies. However, tweens and older looking for an inspired Halloween costume will be very much in luck.
Cast: Asa Butterfield, Chris O'Dowd, Allison Janney
Director: Tim Burton
Running Time: 127 mins
Verdict: Wonderfully acted and art directed, but a touch ponderous.