Cirque Du Freak – The Vampire’s Assistant Review: Lacking Bite
Vampires are totally in right now, hence the wave of horror mollifying tween-targeted blockbusters.
The latest being Cirque du Freak, Paul Weitz’s adaptation of the popular Brit neck-biter series by Darren Shan. All of the vamp-pop elements are there: pre-pubescent half-vamps and ethical struggles.
But despite the aid of Oscar-nominated actors John C. Reilly and Salma Hayek, and a dazzling fantasy world thanks to big-budget special effects, Cirque du Freak plays it safe with sheer sappiness and a “Be who you are” motto. And there were such high hopes for this one.
Darren (Chris Massoglia), 14, is a straight-A student on his parent’s track for “college, job, family.” But a bargain with the vampire Larten Crepsley to save his trouble-making best friend’s life leads him on a different path. Dragged into an extraordinary world of misunderstood sideshow freaks, Darren leaves the safety of suburbia forever to fulfill his alleged destiny as a touring member of Cirque du Freak.
With a cherubic face and sideswiped jet black hipster hair, Massoglia is the contemporary vampire film’s quintessential emo protagonist. He slumps around in a red leather jacket and tight pants, with puppy-dog eyes and pursed lips. And aside from his wardrobe change, emotionally, he remains unaffected. At least his blandness serves some purpose in this film—to make John C. Reilly look good.
Next to Massoglia, Reilly is brilliant as the 200-year-old Larten Crepsley. Playing a worn-out vamp performer has never been more fitting for the cinematic veteran. And his sarcastic humour is to be expected. When the half-blood Darren believes he can now change into a bat, Crepsley retorts, “No. That’s bullshit,” in his wry tone. Even when he tries to be menacing, his unruly red mane gets the better of him. And thank goodness for that. This is a young adult fantasy film we are talking about.
Props do go to Weitz for bringing to life the fascinating circus of freaks—from a lime green and scaly Snake Boy to a drooling, ferocious Wolfman. It is those brief glimpses into their dark world that hold our attention most. But alas, Cirque du Freak is focused on the coming of age story of pokerfaced vampire assistant Darren. And perhaps the biggest mistake of Weitz and co-scripter Brian Helgeland is cramming three of the 12 books into one film. Following him along this far is enough for us.
Too bad the prospect of a sequel has turned to dust.