Cirque Du Freak: the Vampire's Assistant

Starring John C. Reilly, Salma Hayek, Chris Massoglia, Josh Hutcherson and Ken Watanabe. Directed by Paul Weitz. 109 mins.
Rated M (fantasy violence).

Perhaps adult audiences were wondering, while watching this contemporary vampire film (which does not rely very much on traditional vampire lore), why they were not feeling more involved. A suggested reason is that the story, the performances and the direction are aimed directly at a young teenage audience who would 'get it' and not want the subtleties associated with a film aimed at adults. There is nothing wrong with this. Speaking of vampires, this is also the case with the 2008 box-office phenomenon, Twilight. It was produced for a teenage sensibility.

That is probably the best way to describe Cirque du Freak. It is made for a teenage (younger teenage) sensibility – and, more probably, for boys.

Paul Weitz (both American Pie and About a Boy) made his previous film for a younger audience, the campaigned-against Golden Compass. (His brother Paul, with whom he directed Golden Compass went off to direct the other teenage vampire film, the Twilight sequel, New Moon.) He stays with fantasy elements (very well illustrated during the unusual opening credits sequence) while the story is set in a perfectly ordinary middle America home and school. It opens with the hero, Darren, playing computer games in a coffin while his funeral is going on. So, the question is, how did he get there?

Darren is a good student but is pressurised by his parents to be a good and exemplary boy (especially after some window breaking misbehaviour with his best friend, the irresponsible Steve). When they are given a flyer for the Cirque de Freaks, off they go without approval. Well, you will have to see the rest if this intrigues you (in a young teenage way) and see how Darren steals a spider, makes a bargain with a friendly vampire to become a half vampire, lives with the 'freaks' who include Salma Hayek as a bearded lady, is dragooned into confronting Stephen as a war between the good vampires and the bad vampires is engineered by an evil fat man called Mr Tiny.

Josh Hutcherson has been making films for some years and is more assured on screen as Steve than Chris Massoglia who is perfectly ordinary (where more oomph would have been helpful and credible) as Darren. John C. Reilly makes the friendly vampire almost believable. And (though not immediately recognisable) Willem Dafoe comes in and out as a mysterious and spooky figure.

Universal  Out March 11 2011

Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

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