Film review: Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant (2009), directed by Paul Weitz
This film, Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant, is based on a series of books by Darren Shan (actual name Darren O’Shaughnessy). Strangely, the film is not based on the book The Vampire’s Assistant, which is the second book in the Vampire Blood trilogy, but I think mainly just the first one, just called Cirque du Freak (or Cirque du Freak: A Living Nightmare if you’re American, or the whole trilogy, which itself is part of a larger series called The Saga of Darren Shan. Confused yet? So am I, so let’s move on.
It’s about a couple of teenagers. One is a straight A goody-two-shoes kind of guy (Darren, played by Chris Massoglia), the other one is more rebellious and has problems at home (Steve, played by Josh Hutcherson). After getting into trouble, Darren’s parents want their friendship to end, but in defiance, Darren refuses, and the two end up sneaking out to go to an underground freak show, the Cirque du Freak. There, they don’t just see a beautiful lady who can grow a beard impressively fast (Salma Hayek), an illusionist with a humongous red-and-blue poisonous spider (yes, a spider looking a bit like the Spider Man costume!) who the vampire-obsessed Steve identifies as a – gasp – vampire. Those creatures of the night who are all the rage nowadays.
Steve wants to be a vampire, but the spider afficionado Larten Crepsley (John C Reilly) thinks his blood tastes bad, and refuses. Darren witnesses the scene from a cupboard, where he’s hid along with the big spider he decided to “borrow” (because he’s really into spiders). In school the next day, Steve gets bitten by the spider and ends up in hospital. Darren ends up back at the Cirque in order to beg Crepsley to help. Crepsley agrees, on one condition… that he can turn Darren into a half-vampire and make him his assistant.
And so the story begins… A story of friendship and family, good vs evil, budding romance and belonging. Oh, and vampires. See, there’s the “good” vampires and then there’s the “evil” vampires, called the Vampaneze. Good vampires don’t kill people, they just feed on them every now and then. Not leaving a trail of bodies behind you tends to make people less likely to come after you with pitchforks and torches, see.
It wasn’t the most exciting film ever, nor the most interesting, but it was okay. At times, it felt a bit slow. It was also a bit scattered all over the place, which could be down to it being an adaptations of three books into one film, so sometimes you were left wondering what the plot actually was supposed to be. Darren’s new afterlife in the Cirque with Rebecca, Darren assisting Crepsley, Mr. Tiny’s involvement with events, the vampires vs the Vampaneze, or just Darren vs Steve.
Some bits were funny, some bits of acting were a bit so-so, and I keep saying how awesomely gorgeous 19th century clothing is. Or rather, how good-looking blokes are in 19th century clothing. Never had a a thing for vampires, but with Crepsley (and Murlaugh, played by Ray Stevenson), I’m sort of getting the appeal.
“Vampaneze” sounds ridiculous enough, but at least they don’t sparkle. Do they turn into bats? In the words of Crepsley, “NO! NO! That is bullshit.”