NNT Reviews “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant”


Reasons why Twilighters may want to see “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant” —

  • It’s about vampires. Duh.
  • It’s directed by Paul Weitz, brother of New Moon director Chris Weitz.
  • New Moon doesn’t come out for another month.
  • And oh yeah, it’s about vampires.

But should you see “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant”?

Well, that really depends on what you’re after. If you’re looking for something equal in mood and tone to The Twilight Saga, you’re looking in the wrong place. The vampires ofvampires-assistant-poster Cirque du Freak aren’t beautiful and mysterious, and they certainly don’t sparkle. They sleep in coffins, perform in a freak show and they look like John C. Reilly with Carrot Top hair.

But if you want a charming, amusing story that is — yes! — about vampires nonetheless, then this could be a good choice for you.

“Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant” is based on the first book in Darren Shan’s series. I haven’t read the series myself, and hadn’t really heard much about it until buzz about the movie started earlier this year — so I went into the screening with little expectations, having really only seen the movie trailer.

That said, I was pleasantly delighted. It’s not a spectacular movie, but it’s charming and certainly entertaining.

For starters, the cast is outstanding. Chris Massoglia is refreshingly sweet as the 16-year-old Darren, who finds himself agreeing to a life of vampirism to save his best friend — played well, if not a little too predictably by Josh Hutcherson. Reilly shines as the vampire Crepsley — injecting the role with humor, without becoming a charicature and without sacrificing depth. A small appearance by Willem Dafoe as one of Crepsley’s vampire friends is also a knock-out. He bears a striking resemblance to Vincent Price in both appearance and demeanor, but it works for Dafoe in this role.

The true stars, however, are the supporting cast. My personal favorite was Patrick Fugit as Evra, the reptile boy — and Darren’s roommate after joining the Cirque. Despite his reptillian appearance, he’s one of the most “normal” characters in the bunch — and the dichotomy is amusing, as is Evra’s desire to be a musician and not part of a freak show. It’s too bad Fugit doesn’t get a chance to shine more, and expand on his character. Notable other supporting cast members include Salma Hayek, Orlando Jones, Jane Krakowski and Ken Watanabe — all of them members of the Cirque.

Ray Stevenson (who I still remember fondly for his role as Titus Pullo in HBO’s Rome) was fantastic, though nearly unrecognizable as the bad vampire Murlaugh. The makeup and costume department did a real standout job on his look. I spent the whole movie trying to spot Stevenson — and didn’t recognize him until nearly the end. Stevenson really knows how to play a true villain, and he does so here with relish that is a joy to watch.

The cast of characters are really what drive this movie along. The story is not the strongest — it’s clearly meant to be an introduction to the series, and so there is no epic battle between two factions of vampires. Instead, there is only talk about a possible and eventual epic battle between the warring vampires, which may or may not happen. We see a brief glimpse — when Crepsley and Murlaugh go head-to-head, with Darren and his best friend caught in the middle. But without promise of future movies, it’s hard to say whether we really feel engaged by or invested in the battle. And though there are glimpses of possible dramatic turns during the fight scene, it feels like it falls a little short.

The movie also finds itself walking a fine line between the dark and the comical. For the most part, it’s a fairly light-hearted movie —  a sort of goofy, whimsical take on the vampire story, with a cast of circus freaks thrown in for good measure. But there are moments when the movie struggles to present more serious moments — such as when Darren realizes he must leave his family and fake his own death to become a vampire. It’s a difficult moment — and it is lightened by the movie’s humor, but part of me wonders if maybe the scene should have been a tad bit more serious.

Still, the movie is enjoyable to watch simply to spend time with these colorful and engaging characters. And Paul Weitz as director has a fun, engaging eye behind the lense. The effects are certainly not ground-breaking — but the movie has a fun visual presence that is consistent throughout the entire film. It maintains a whimsical quality, without feeling like a cartoon.

“Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant” is rated PG-13. It hits theaters nationwide on Friday, October 23rd.


2 Responses

  1. I saw this last night as well and totally did not recognize Pullo!! (Rome is one of the best shows ever to grace TV, imo)

    I agree with your review. I found the movie to be enjoyable, very funny, warm, but often struggling. However, it left me feeling that the next movie in the series could only get better–and if that is the case, the next movie would spectacular. Ultimately, what this movie SHOULD do is make you want to see the next one & they achieved that goal with me.

  2. […]  Paul Weitz’s “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant” opens Friday, with John C. Reilly as a centuries-old bloodsucker in a traveling freak show.  […]

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