In this enthralling fantasy-adventure, two teenaged boys find their close friendship tested when the pair are drawn into a mysterious netherworld of sideshow freaks and grotesque misfits. Darren (Chris Massoglia) and Steve (Josh Hutcherson) are best mates and fairly typical teenagers. Darren”™s strict parents ensure he”™s a model student. Steve”™s neglectful upbringing means that no one is curbing his tendency for mischief. When the two boys hear of a Freak Show coming to town, they sneak off in the dead of night to check it out. There they see sights that defy explanation, such as a slathering wolf-man and a voluptuous bearded lady (Salma Hayek).
Steve recognizes one of the performers, Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly), from his well-thumbed books on vampires. After the police shut down the show, Steve seeks out the vampire backstage and asks to join his clan. Meanwhile, Darren impulsively steals Crepsley”™s poisonous spider Madam Octa, and overhears the conversation between Crepsley and Steve. When Crepsley declares Steve has bad blood, he refuses to turn the boy into a vampire. Incensed by this rejection, Steve swears to kill Crepsley and departs angrily.
Darren brings the spider to school where, predictably, it escapes and creates havoc, sinking its fangs into Steve”™s face. Darren returns the spider to Crepsley and begs him for an antidote to save his friend. But there”™s a price to pay…
Somehow the boys unknowingly break a 100-year-old truce between two warring factions of vampires; a peaceful group called the Vampire Clan who don”™t kill their victims, who are at odds with a group of stereotypical bloodsucking killers called the vampaneze. Darren disappears from the safety of his suburban existence to fulfill his destiny in a place shrouded by nightmares and steeped in blood.
Here Paul Weitz is directing for the first time without his brother Chris by his side. (Curiously enough, Chris is completing another Vampire flick, The Twilight Saga: New Moon.) The inventive animated opening credits sequence is almost worth the price of admission alone. Apart from some jarringly choppy editing, the movie is superbly entertaining and features first-rate visual affects.
Cameo performances include Willem Dafoe, Jane Krakowski and Patrick Fugit in supporting roles. The two teenagers prove decent actors, but the revelation of the piece is the brilliant performance by John C. Reilly. For the first time, Reilly gets to play a character with genuine emotional depth, and demonstrates he”™s more than up to the challenge, bringing a tremendous gravitas and air of melancholy to this role as well as a unique wit.
Cirque du Freak: The Vampire”™s Assistant is based on the first three installments of a twelve-book, young adult series by Irish author Darren Shan, entitled Cirque Du Freak, The Vampire”™s Assistant, and Tunnels of Blood (all published in 2000). The novels were adapted for the film by American screenwriter Brian Helgeland who relocated the setting from Europe to New Orleans. It is also rumored that there will be four movies to cover all twelve books.
Indeed, the ending clearly sets up for a sequel, which I am already looking forward to seeing.
Distributed by Universal Pictures and Relativity Media.
More info can be found at the movie”™s official site
review by Pauline Adamek