DIR: Paul Weitz • WRI: Paul Weitz, Brian Helgeland • PRO: Ewan Leslie, Lauren Shuler Donner • DOP: J. Michael Muro • ED: Leslie Jones • DES: William Arnold • CAST: Chris Massoglia, John C. Reilly, Ken Watanabe, Salma Hayek
Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant offers a refreshingly original take on the vampire mythos while providing an entertaining platform for a somewhat unpolished teen-movie. With a wealth of imagination and stars, it comes as no surprise that director Paul Weitz’s latest project is an agreeable, if forgettable, venture.
The cast is monstrous, yet lead Chris Massoglia gives a disappointingly wooden performance. This is not the drain on the film one might expect due wholly to John C. Reilly. The only flaw in the latter’s performance is the fact that the man screams comedy: from his ridiculous hair to his doughy features. Thus, convincing viewers he is a disillusioned Vampire General is a difficult feat, executed flawlessly. There are sniffs of his usual wit, which enrich the character, making Reilly the film’s life-blood.
The support cast, studded with considerable names, give solid, believable performances that expand the thrust and atmosphere of the film. Notably, Ken Watanabe’s Mr Tall proves that despite ridiculous roles, the man acts with such presence and magnetism, that he benefits any project enormously.
The narrative, whether faithful or not, certainly ticks all the boxes for an original teen-movie to seek one’s teeth into. Themes such as: freak circus, raging teenage angst, bubbling conflicts between vampires and the inexplicably named Vampaneze, and (albeit diluted) messages regarding tolerance make for an imaginative 108 minutes. Not all the pieces stitch together, though the effort and detail in the explanation of vampires, their feeding habits, biology etc. is commendable. The story tries something new while anchoring itself to relatively human experiences.
Regrettably, the pacing is jarred. The opening over-establishes Darren’s typical sub-urban lifestyle. This isn’t an aspect viewers struggle with and should have been cut. The middle would have benefited from additional exposition but suffered from patchy tempo. Any trace of swelling crescendo was eerily absent as the film struggles to flesh out its content into its timeslot. This seems a common hurdle for literary adaptations, but vivid themes suffer due to excessive elaboration of mundane aspects: a balancing act Cirque Du Freak… botches.
Similarly, creature effects were hit and miss. Make-up, design and costumes fashioned a supernatural atmosphere, specifically the titular Cirque: the freaks mainly looked…freaky. However, some characters were blatantly CG, which diminishes the experience. Still, Cirque Du Freak… nails down the important, unnatural elements memorably. The sets, much of which get torn apart, seem realistic, although occasional smashed polystyrene gravestones spoil the show.
Unfortunately the illusion suffers via the ‘flicker’ effect. Contrived and heavily CGI, the distortion of fantastically speedy creatures looks like paint splodges on screen. As the film’s most dominant glamour, it’s peculiar the director chose to stake a claim with this unpolished effect.
Cirque Du Freak… will come under criticism for simply being a teen-fantasy adventure that is not a Harry Potter film. However, put that aside and indulge an open mind for two hours, and you will find Cirque Du Freak… an original and unique take on a rich genre.
(See biog here)