October 24, 2009
Review - " Cirque du Freak: The Vampires Assistant "
(in theaters) By Roland Hansen
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Through a series of odd events, Darren steals Octa from Crepsley and the spider bites Steve, bringing him to the brink of
death. Out of intense guilt, Darren reaches a deal with the 200-year-old vampire. In exchange for the spider antidote, Darren
will become a half vampire and assistant for Crepsley. Unfortunately, this means abandoning his family, his friends, and his
former life and entering a new and dangerous supernatural world.
I went into “Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant” cold, knowing nothing about it in advance. I had only seen the trailer
and vaguely knew there was a book series. The film has a number of things going for it. First of all, it’s an interesting world.
The various creatures and their powers are definitely intriguing. The filmmakers also go out of their way to paint the portrait
of a deeply layered supernatural world filled with various factions, endless possibilities for creatures, and a lot of surprises.
The movie also takes the nearly worn out premise of vampires and does a few new things with them. Rather than ripping
throats out of victims and looking goth and/or sexy, you get an un-sexy John C. Reilly as Larten Crepsley and scenes of him
lightly striking people in order to draw blood. It’s not as flashy as other vampires, but it’s certainly more practical and definitely
more like a real world vampire bat who opts for stealth over brute force.
I have to compliment the production design,
too. The sets and costumes look great (though
the dominance of pastels in the real world is a
tad heavy handed). The special effects
makeup is pretty good, too, particularly on
Evra the Snake Boy. Willem Dafoe’s makeup
for Gavner Purl is also amusing. His vampire
character has makeup caked on his face, yet
has a deathly pale neck. It helps add to the
quirkiness of these vampires.
“Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant”
has a bit of trouble settling on who its target
audience is. While it appears rather light,
there’s a fair amount of language in it. That
immediately makes it less appropriate for
elementary age children. There are also some
very intense themes and a few scary moments
that make it inappropriate for the younger set.
It ends up being too dark for kids under 10,
but it’s probably too light for teenagers who are more into “Twilight” or more intense horror fare. Adults will probably be mildly
entertained by it, but I don’t think it’s enough of a draw to get them in the theaters. What you’re left with is a film that primarily
appeals to people that read the books, and I don’t know if that’s enough to make it successful.
The film also has trouble settling on a tone. It has a bit of the supernatural wonder of “Harry Potter” and certainly attempts to
paint a rich world with lots of layers like Rowling’s. It has a little bit of the surreal settings and fantastic sets of “Lemony
Snicket” or “Big Fish.” It has a bit of the black humor and quirkiness of “Pushing Daisies.” The end result is a movie that’s
trying to do too much and ultimately falls short of almost all of its goals. When Crepsley starts training Darren there’s a lot of
comedy and funny moments between the two characters. It starts feeling like a Marvel Superhero origin story and you start
thinking, “Ah! So it’s a comedy! This can work.” However, that comedy and action is left behind soon enough. The biggest
issue I had with "Cirque" is that, like "The Empire Strikes Back", the movie is incomplete. It's really more of a first half of a
movie. It concludes by foreshadowing a lot of events in the next story, but you leave thinking, “The setup for the sequel
sounded more interesting than this film.” And like "The Golden Compass" which thought it was going to kick-start a franchise,
"Cirque du Freak" didn’t understand that the first movie has to stand on its own and not rely on movies that don’t (and
probably will never) exist. This entitlement poisons the pacing and retards any character development. If not for the brilliant
John C. Reilly, “Cirque du Freak” would deserve to be burned to the ground by angry townsfolk.
God bless John C. Reilly. If everything in the film was as good as him, “Cirque du Freak” would be one of the best movies of
the year. Reilly is fun to watch as Crepsley, a world weary vampire who embraces the showmanship of his freak show
magician identity and plays the sardonic and sarcastic dialogue with a mix of deadpan apathy and reluctant heroism. He
outshines everything and plays Crepsley as sardonic, cynical, but also lonely and defensive. While “Cirque” is more aware of
its brand potential than its story, Reilly plays his role straight and acts like he’s in a good movie even though he’s so much
better than it. The rest of it — from the colorfully generic circus folk defined more by the special effects of their appearance
Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant
Directed by: Paul Weitz
Starring: John C Reilly, Josh Hutcherson, Chris Massoglia, Salma
Hayek, Jessica Carlson
Staking a rather weak claim for placement alongside the venerable
"Twilight" in the growing oeuvre of teen vampire flicks is "Cirque Du
Freak: The Vampire's Assistant", based on Darren Shan's popular
series of young adult novels. Compared to Stephenie Meyer's
celebrated books and their subsequent movie adaptations, "Cirque" is
quirkier, more irreverent and more male-oriented. (The latter is best
exemplified by the presence of Salma Hayek, whose ample assets are
on conspicuous display throughout.) It's unfortunate that it doesn't
make for a better film.
Darren Shan is a normal teen living a suburban lifestyle. He has good
parents, gets good grades, and is popular at school. He’s best friends
with Steve who is pretty much his opposite in every respect. Steve is
the bad influence that always gets Darren in trouble, but they get
One night, Steve convinces Darren to sneak out and attend the
“Cirque Du Freak,” a one night only freak show held in an abandoned
theater. The boys go and end up seeing an astonishing variety of
freaks with supernatural abilities. But the main attraction for them is
Larten Crepsley and his exotic spider named Octa. Steve immediately
identifies Crepsley as a vampire. Secretly, he hopes he can become a
than any contrived
personality to Darren’s
resistance to embracing his
new identity and his amiably
weird new family - is all
window dressing. This is no
circus, it’s a sideshow with
no main attraction.
Still “Cirque Du Freak: The
Vampire’s Assistant” is
worth checking out. It has a
fun mix of horror and
quirkiness, but it does
have some troubles finding
the appropriate tone and
the appropriate audience.