This is something like a mix of the X-Men and Harry Potter. Asa Butterfield plays a troubled kid who grew up hearing tall tales from this grandfather (Terence Stamp) about spending World War II in a Welsh orphanage whose residents all had strange abilities. When his beloved grandfather dies in a mysterious and horrific fashion, Butterfield is traumatized, but he gradually recovers and eventually persuades his father to take him to the town in Wales so he can see the children’s home for himself, in the hope this will help him achieve closure.
What he really wants to do is find out whether his grandfather’s stories were true. When they get there they learn that the children’s home was destroyed during the war. But Butterfield slips away to explore the ruins by himself and encounters some of the strange children his grandfather had spoken of, who don’t appear to have aged.
It transpires that there are always peculiar children in the world and adults to protect them, as well as powerful others who want to harm them.
The film, directed by Tim Burton, is visually striking, and the script, Jane Goldman’s adaptation of the novel by Ransom Riggs, is full of interesting ideas. I liked the film well enough, though I thought it seemed a little too self-consciously strange.
Incidentally, screenwriter Goldman (no relation to William Goldman), along with her frequent collaborator Matthew Vaughan, previously adapted Neil Gaiman’s novel Stardust for an excellent 2007 film that ought to be better known. They also wrote Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class. On her own Goldman scripted The Woman in Black, a memorably spooky ghost story starring Daniel Radcliffe.