Directed by: Paul Weitz
Starring: Chris Massoglia, John C. Reilly, Josh Hutcherson, Jessica Carlson, Salma Hayek,
Rated: PG-13 for sequences of intense supernatural violence and action, disturbing images, thematic elements and some language.
They say there’s nothing new under the sun, and that’s especially true in Hollywood. “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant” is a loose adaptation of the first trilogy in the Darren Shan Saga and a blend of a handful of old tropes. That said, it does have a few new twists which make it worth seeing if you’re interested in vampire tales.
Darren Shan (Chris Massoglia) is a normal high school student. He gets good grades, hangs out with his best friend Steve (Josh Hutcherson), and has a normal life planned out for him. All that changes when he and Steve go to a performance of the Cirque du Freak, the oldest continuously touring freakshow in the Western hemisphere. The freaks are unusually freaky: the bearded lady can grow her beard on command, a young woman can regrow her hands when they’re lopped off, and there’s a fellow with a spider whom Steve recognizes from one of his vampire books. Steve, you see, is obsessed with vampires, and desperately wants to be one.
Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly) is an unusual vampire — he lacks the aquiline good looks and flawless skin of the romantic vampire, and has wild hair, scars, and a short temper. Reilly owns the part and is probably the best thing about the entire film. Massoglia and Hutcherson are given a bit less to work with but do solid jobs. They’re playing standard teenagers. Massoglia’s job is to look startled and confused a lot, which he does, and Hutcherson’s is to be angry a lot, which he also does.
Why is Steve so angry? Well, after a theft and an accident, he winds up in the hospital and Darren winds up cutting a deal with Crepsley: Darren will become Crepsley’s half-vampire assistant, and in return the vampire will save Steve, whose life was endangered by Darren’s stupidity. It’s never entirely explained what the difference between a vampire and a half-vampire is (and as the film goes on, Darren sure seems to have all the same powers Crepsley does).
Darren and Steve wind up on opposite sides of a war brewing between the two types of bloodsucking undead: the basically decent vampires, who only take a little blood, and the wicked vampaneze, who kill their victims. Add in the mysterious Mr. Tiny (Michael Cerveris), who is manipulating both sides for his own ends, and a supporting cast of the freaks Darren and Crepsley live with while trying to figure out what to do about the war, and you have a nice little adventure.
The film is pretty solid for an adaptation of three young adult books, though as is common with adaptations, hardcore fans of the series will likely be none too pleased with the changes made to the story. If, like me, you aren’t familiar with the source material but are fond of vampire stories, “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Apprentice” makes for a good couple hours of entertainment.