Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant is an excruciatingly painful film to sit through. Not only is it simply poorly made — it’s not put together with much care, most of the actors are dreadful, the CGI made me laugh — it’s also incredibly long (2 hours) and doesn’t even end properly. It wants to set-up a franchise that I don’t think will ever come, and while I’m happy about that given how poorly this film turned out, the decision to attempt a franchise made this film come out worse as a result.
We begin with convolution. Best friends Darren (Chris Massoglia) and Steve (Josh Hutcherson) come from very different backgrounds. The former is your typical spoiled rich kid who gets everything he wants but has to do everything his parents want, while the latter is raised by an alcoholic single mother. Despite this, they’re friends to the end, and decide one day to attend a local freak show that is in town for one night. It’s here where they meet the ringleader (Ken Watanabe), and bear witness to the most amazing things that anyone can see, like a woman who can regenerate limbs, a man with two stomachs (which somehow allows him to eat anything and everything), a man who has snake skin, and a woman who can bite through anything.
If it weren’t for the lousy CGI, I might have thought it was wonderful too. Eventually a man named Crepsley (John C. Reilly) comes out and does a performance with a spider, which just so happens to be the animal that Darren is fascinated with. He eventually steals the arachnid, learns that Crepsley is a vampire, discovers that Steve wants to be a vampire, and then runs away. The next day at school, the spider escapes, bites Steve, and Darren winds up back at the freak show, begging the vampire to cure his friend.
We had to go through all of that just for the title of the film to happen. Crepsley makes Darren a deal: If the kid if willing to become a half-vampire (seemingly the only difference between a half-vampire and a full one is that the former can walk around in the daylight, not that this is ever utilized), he will cure Steve from the soon-to-be-fatal spider bite. You’re correct: We did have to sit through more than half an hour of convolution just to find out that (1) vampires exist and (2) one of the children will become a vampire’s assistant.
It’s because of this far-too-long opening that Cirque du Freak feels overlong. The rest of the film isn’t exactly terrible, and there are some elements that are involving, but because we had to wait over half an hour to get to the basic premise, my patience was already wearing thin. And it’s not even as if this time was used to establish characters, as that’s done in the first five minutes with them all. They’re all archetypes anyway, and it doesn’t take much of a stretch to figure out who they are.
Despite all of this, we still haven’t really gotten to the main plot. That involves a war that has been going on for centuries involving vampires and the Vampaneze. The vampires don’t kill humans, while the Vampaneze do. That’s about the only distinction I can make between them, although it doesn’t really matter; the vampires are good and the Vampaneze are bad. Crepsley is on the side of the vampires, although the leader of the Vampaneze is never actually revealed.
The central villain of the picture is a mysterious man named Tiny (Michael Cerveris), whom we first see trying to recruit Darren and then trying to get Steve. For what? To lead the Vampaneze, I suppose, although he claims that he’s neutral in this war. He simply wants good theater, I suppose, which is something we can all relate to. He’s the catalyst for everything that happens, even if we can’t really root against him once we find out what he wants out of life.
Unfortunately, we’re not going to get good theater with Cirque du Freak. There’s no good drama, no good horror, no good comedy — no good anything, really. The only actor who makes the film worth watching is John C. Reilly, and that’s only because pretty much every line he spouts is laugh-worthy. The two younger actors fail to deliver even the simplest lines believably, and the supporting cast — which includes Ray Stevenson, Willem Dafoe and Salma Hayek, among others — fades into the background and is never used to its potential. Dafoe in particular is seen really early on and then not again until the very end, and it’s never explained why he disappeared.
What’s worse is that the film ends right before it should be reaching the climax. We could have a proper ending, and then possibly we’ll at least be satisfied that we sat through two hours to get closure, but no, that’s not what happens. I was mad at the filmmakers for doing this to us. I wanted my time back. I felt ripped off. There are twelve books in the Cirque du Freak series of novels, the first three of which have been loosely adapted into this film, and I felt sorry for the fans of the books, because they’ll come into this film with high hopes and leave disappointed. I just watched a terrible movie; they watched a terrible movie based on something they adored.
Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant is an abomination. Just about everything that could have gone wrong did. There are interesting moments and characters, but the film doesn’t bother with them. Instead, it overlooks them in favor of a story that we’ve seen before that it doesn’t even want to end. It has bad lead actors, laughable CGI, one of the worst endings I can remember seeing, and is almost 30 minutes too long. It can’t even decide if it wants to be funny or scary, eventually failing at both. I can’t recommend avoiding this film enough.