With Halloween just around the corner, October is the perfect time for movie studios to unleash their creepiest films, since we're all in the mood for a good scare. Combine with that the insatiable desire for vampire entertainment, and you've got Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant; a tween fantasy movie that plays out like R.L. Stein's Goosebumps novels on the big screen — but not nearly as scary.
Based on the book series by Darren Shan, Cirque du Freak is the story of Darren (Chris Massoglia), your typical 16-year-old boy trying to quell his high school boredom. Dubbed "Mr. Perfect" by his mischievous best friend Steve, Darren follows the rules, has plenty of friends, and does whatever his parents tell him to do — that is, unless Steve can convince him otherwise. The boys pick up a flyer for the Cirque du Freak and decide to check it out.
That's just the beginning though, so to see what I thought of the film, just read more.
Things go awry when Darren finds himself tangled up in the world behind the Cirque, particularly that of Larten Crepsley, a crotchety vampire who couldn't be bothered with a teenager. When Darren gets himself into a sticky situation, the only way he can bail himself out is by selling his soul to Crepsley, becoming his half-vampire assistant.
If you thought sorting out all the vampire lore in Twilight and True Blood was confusing, get ready for the most convoluted yet. In this story, a war is brewing between two breeds: the Vampanese represent the blood-suckers that are all for killing their prey, while the run-of-the mill vamps prefer to sedate, feed, and then letting their victims return to regular life. As a half-vampire who's reluctant to lose what little human qualities he has left, Darren obviously joins Larten Crepsley's team, while his best friend Steve joins the evil Vampanese.
As for the actual Cirque du Freak, the group of misfits and outcasts are more X-Men and less Carnivale. The crew includes unusual children who were abandoned by their parents (like "Snake Boy" and "Monkey Girl"), along with a few other vaudeville acts like the Bearded Lady (Salma Hayek) and a woman who can regenerate her limbs (Jane Krakowski). Some are friendly, others are surly, but the cirque in itself is more campy than scary; little hideout is basically an island of misfit toys.
The film isn't boring, but it's not exactly packed with pizazz either. Director Paul Weitz was sure to stay on the safer side of the movie's PG-13 rating, rarely pushing the envelope on what could have been a much creepier film. John C. Reilly is always reliable for a good performance, and he has some great comedic timing as the voice of brutal honesty to Darren's naivete. Massoglia gives decent performance for a newbie, and even reminded me of a young Emile Hirsch at times. That said, the movie is also packed with confusing subplots and some truly corny dialogue that evoked collective groans from the audience.
If you're looking for a fun movie to get you into the Halloween spirit, this might do the trick. Just make sure you're in a tween state of mind.
Photos courtesy of Universal Pictures