Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant is the newest addition to the increasingly popular vampire genre. It is adapted from the first three books of The Saga of Darren Shan, a twelve-novel series written by Darren Shan. The film adaptation is elevated by strong performances, clever writing, and fantastic special effects. The Vampire’s Assistant centers around two best friends, Darren (Chris Massoglia) and Steve (Josh Hutcherson) and their encounter with the Cirque Du Freak, a traveling freak show. After attending a Cirque Du Freak performance, the two friends find themselves in the middle of an escalating war between vampires. After Darren becomes a vampire, they are made aware of a looming prophecy that is dependent on the decisions they choose to make.
The two young leads are played adequately and are believable as teenagers yearning for more excitement in their lives. The real stand-out here is John C. Reilly, who plays the vampire Larten Crepsley, and gives a more controlled performance than usual. His dry and sardonic portrayal accounts for many of the film’s laughs.
Michael Cerveris is effective as the sinister Mr. Tiny. Character-actor Ray Stevenson plays Murlaugh, Mr. Tiny’s muscle man, and successfully portrays a character that is both evil and humorous. It is a character that could easily have turned cartoonish but Stevenson pulls it off.
William Defoe also has a small role as Gavner Purl, an older vampire, and gives an interestingly unique performance. Although his screen time is limited, it is clear that this character will be pivotal in subsequent sequels. There are many other very strong performances that round out the ensemble cast, including Salma Hayek as the bearded lady and Ken Watanabe as the ring leader, Mr. Tall.
Although the acting by the supporting ensemble is great, the real treat is the special effects. The Cirque environment is depicted beautifully with unique, twisted visuals. The film is shot beautifully and director Paul Weitz competently creates an ominous and dark atmosphere.
Unfortunately, the film has one major problem, and that is the main story between Darren and Steve is weighed down by lack of chemistry. Although the two actors play their characters well individually, their friendship lacks authenticity and therefore much of the tension between them falls flat.
The film works incredibly well for its target audience-teenagers. The violence and language is just dark and adult enough for this age group. The movie manages to take the ambiguity of the vampire lore to its advantage and is a great introductory medium to those not familiar with vampires. The Vampire’s Assistant is a charming, family-film that should be seen for the entertaining and unique special effects.
The film is a witty and harmless entry into vampire films and is well worth the price of admission.