Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant
Review by Cassam Looch
CIRQUE Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant is based on the popular series of books by Darren Shan. In the lead role we get to see John C. Reilly having a great time as one of the undead… in fact he’s having much more fun than the audience as the film is a bizarre mix of teen angst, child-orientated slapstick and mature ‘vampirism’ themes.
It works in places but doesn’t quite gel together as the opening gambit in a planned franchise.
Darren (Chris Massoglia) is like most kids in his neighborhood. He hangs out with his best friend Steve (Josh Hutcherson), gets decent grades and usually stays out of trouble. But when he and his buddy stumble upon a travelling freak show, things begin to change dramatically.
Despite Steve’s life-long desire to become a vampire it is Darren who is forced into the ‘lifestyle’ and made to leave his family to travel with the Freak Show. Soon, however, a rival group of vampires enlist Steve to turn on his friend and cause a centuries-old truce to crumble rapidly.
Reilly plays the ‘good’ vampire Larten who takes on Darren as his assistant. It’s never fully clear in the film as to why this choice is made, and why he is so crucial to the battle ahead.
Willem Defoe literally disappears from the screen in the first 15 minutes to seemingly find an answer only to appear near the end of the film with some incomprehensible reasoning. You get a sense of the depth of the book series but feel that this adaptation is doing it no favours.
Another problem is the continuous shifts in tone. The ‘freak’ show is genuinely terrifying and grotesque but is soon followed by a ‘comedic’ high school skit (which in turn leads to a comatose Steve struggling to survive).
It’s great to have some maturity to kid’s films but this never feels like a kid’s film and as such is too frothy to be aimed at older teens or adults.
On the plus side, Reilly is an effective choice for world-weary Larten. His place amongst the other freaks is one of the highlights even if Salma Hayek (as a bearded lady no less!) and Ken Watanabe are given little to do for the majority of the film.
The idea of rivalry is well played out with the two younger actors managing to convince us as unlikely friends to even more unlikely foes. Unfortunately, in a very deliberate attempt to pitch for subsequent films in the franchise we are left with many answered questions which I fear will only be revealed in the books and not on the big screen, as subsequent episodes seem unlikely.
Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant is a mildly interesting and diverting take on the over-populated vampire genre, which fails by trying too hard to please everyone and set itself up as a franchise rather than a stand-alone film.
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: March 1, 2010