The first of a possible movie franchise taken from the Cirque Du Freak book series, The Vampire’s Assistant creates a magical and mysterious world, permeated with a distinct sense of nostalgia which will make the adults in the audience wish the Cirque existed and they’d visited it as youngsters.
Cirque Du Freak is aimed at that demographic which has devoured the Harry Potter movies, and the cynical amongst you might just think it is another case of cashing in on the recent vampire craze. But considering its literary origins, this is probably just coincidence.
We start from a small town in the US where two best friends, Darren, a good boy who wants to rebel, and Steve, a bit of a tearaway with a penchant for the macabre, defy a curfew to visit a passing freak show.
Steve has a glimpse of a world he would like to join (he wants to be a vampire and embrace the lifestyle), but he ends up in a coma and his best friend makes a pact with vampire Crepsley Larten (John C. Reilly) in order to save him: he becomes a vampire himself and joins the Circus after faking his own death.
There is no sense of predestination for Darren, and that is because he was born in a ‘normal’ family, snuck out to go to a freakshow, and by an adventurous turn of events, he ended up joining the circus and becoming a vampire, without actually meaning to do either. At this point, there does not appear to be a sense of predestination at play – or is there?
As Darren’s mentor, John C. Reilly has a plum part, a vampire who gets on with his eternal life but is jaded from having already lived 200 years.
The community of freaks is a benign and welcoming world, and it provides Darren with an ideal place to grow and come of age. Feeling cheated, Steve ends up joining a bloodthirsty vampire faction called Vampaneze, which long to do war with John C. Reilly’s peaceful Vampires. Hence, the cast is set for a confrontation between the two antiheroes at a later date, and a good versus evil dichotomy, which is not clearly defined, allowing a more intriguing story to develop.
The cast is magnificent, great character actors sinking their teeth (oops!) into cult roles, and the movie succeeds in their introduction, which titillates the audience into wanting to know more about them (no doubt providing an eager public for the episodes to follow).
Chris Massoglia, a relative newcomer, manages to carry the movie well enough, but then again he is given sterling support by Reilly as well as the rest of the cast, which includes a wonderful Michael Cerveris, a bearded Salma Hayek, snakeboy Patrick Fugit, Willem Dafoe in a cameo role, Ken Watanabe as the ringmaster, Josh Hutcherson as Steve, and many others.
I left the movie with a slight sense of dissatisfaction: I wanted to know more about the characters. There was so much to explore and I wanted it right away! The movie had a lot of ground to cover, it did so successfully, and time literally flew.
Obviously, this bides well for the coming franchise, as the story is packed with juicy characters and director Paul Weitz does an excellent job in getting us to care about them. The world created here is dark but fun, and although apparently aimed at the Twilight audience, it offers plenty of layers for adults to explore and enjoy as well.
If you are a fan of the books you might find discrepancies, but if you are coming to this without having read them, you will be entertained and amused, and you’ll probably want to go back for more.