Imagine if, instead of battling Magneto and his robot army of Sentinels, the X-Men were hunted by Slender Man-esque creatures intent on eating their eyeballs. Throw in some time travel, a little shape-shifting, and Judi Dench wielding a crossbow (in a scene that feels like an homage to Feast), and you have a good idea of what to expect from Tim Burton’s latest film, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.

Friendless in Florida, teenager Jake (Asa Butterfield) doesn’t fit in with his peers and can’t quite gel with his parents. The only person who truly understands him is his grandfather, Abe (Terence Stamp), who used to tell him stories about how he grew up on a hidden island with uniquely gifted children before leaving to fight monsters (of the non-human variety) in World War II. Jake grew out of those bedtime stories over the years, though, and despite his grandfather’s claims to the contrary, he dismissed them as being an old man’s illusions.

But when Abe is attacked one foggy night, the thin line between what Jake thought was reality and what was supposedly fantasy begins to blur, compelling him to take a trip to Wales in search of the truth. There, on the island straight out of his grandfather’s tall tales, Jake discovers the truth he so desperately seeks… and which he may wish he had never found. Although he stumbles into the world of the benevolent Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) and her home of truly peculiar children, Jake also encounters the evil Wights, monsters that retain their human forms by devouring the eyeballs of gifted children. Yikes.

An epic adventure, fantastical comedy, and skin-crawling horror story rolled into one, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children plays like a twisted fairy tale, shedding light on some of the darkest corners of our imaginations. For a PG-13 movie, it pulls no punches and even pushes against the boundaries of the rating. There’s no real gore shown onscreen, but more than a few moments will provide viewers with enough nightmare fuel to haunt their dreams until Halloween, including an eyeball buffet scene that would be right at home within the pages of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.

Ultimately, though, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is more dark fantasy than chilling campfire tale, and it’s perfectly suited to Burton’s keen eye for the eerie. A director with a penchant for telling the stories of outsiders (from someone who dresses as a bat at night to an inventor’s lonely creation with scissors for hands), Burton connects quickly with Miss Peregrine and the peculiar children in her care. Instead of making us fear their unusual abilities, Burton and screenwriter Jane Goldman bypass the worries of the unknown and instead embrace the wonders of a girl who needs to wear lead shoes to keep from floating away, or a boy who can use his eye to project his dreams onto the wall.

Based on the novel of the same name by Ransom Riggs, the film’s wide range of characters are a joy to watch, and the young cast does an admirable job building a believable chemistry that makes them feel like a real, ragtag family. As a whole, whether they’re making jokes around the dinner table or taking their daily stroll through the 1940s countryside, the group is a blast to watch, but it’s a shame that the individual characters are never given much depth other than their interactions with Jake. Their powers are the primary focus in favor of their emotions and backgrounds. Even Eva Green is given far less screen time than expected.

Coming off her renowned role as Vanessa Ives on Penny Dreadful, Green plays Miss Peregrine with a Willy Wonka twinkle in her eye, displaying persistent optimism even when faced with bombs from above and invisible monsters from below. Green is simply superb in her second collaboration with Burton (following 2012’s Dark Shadows), so it’s difficult to see her character transform into a falcon and fly off-screen or be confined to a cage, when she’s so mesmerizing in human form.

But even when Miss Peregrine isn’t around, Asa Butterfield picks up the reigns and makes Jake a compelling and sympathetic character to follow as he navigates the minefields of teen life and the violent threats of his newfound fantasy world. As Barron, the main antagonist and stalker of Jake, Samuel L. Jackson certainly looks the creepy part, baring a set of razor-sharp teeth and nightmarish white pupils, but his light-hearted dialogue and comedic delivery make Barron more fun than fearful. It’s still a solid performance from the always reliable Jackson, but Barron had the potential to be a truly transformative and terrifying role for the actor.

Spearheaded by Rodeo FX, the film’s visual effects effectively display the peculiar children’s many quirks. One of the kids, Enoch (Finlay MacMillan), has the ability to bring life to inanimate objects (and dead people), and a scene in which he animates an army of skeletons to fight Barron's creatures makes for a manic monster mash that’s also a nice nod to Jason and the Argonauts. The use of 3D in the film isn’t enough of a “wow” factor to completely justify shelling out a few extra bucks for the feature, but there are a few moments that might make it worthwhile for diehard fans of the medium.

Overall, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children feels like a fun crossover between X-Men, Goosebumps, and Harry Potter. It’s a confident creation from Tim Burton, who had quite the scary sandbox to play in. Time will tell if a sequel can expand on the promising first step forward in this potential franchise, but for fans of dark fantasy, this is an eerie adventure absolutely worth taking.

Movie Score: 3.5/5

  • Derek Anderson
    About the Author - Derek Anderson

    Raised on a steady diet of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books and Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Derek has been fascinated with fear since he first saw ForeverWare being used on an episode of Eerie, Indiana.

    When he’s not writing about horror as the Senior News Reporter for Daily Dead, Derek can be found daydreaming about the Santa Carla Boardwalk from The Lost Boys or reading Stephen King and Brian Keene novels.