Well, Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant is Paul Weitz’s best solo movie. I can’t even really say things like that anymore because people have me figured out. It’s also the best of the recent crop of vampire shows and movies, but also see my reviews of those for context. It has promise, but I certainly don’t care if they never complete the series as movies.
Review: Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant
It’s got a Tim Burton-y vibe, like the old Tim Burton of whimsical freaks we love. The music sounds all Danny Elfman-y even though it’s not and the credits are animated. The tone towards “normal” people is good and irreverent, with parental love literally tied to grades and super arch one dimensional adults. Yes, we get it. The idea that the oppressive life plan leads to happiness is actually false.
The CGI enhanced freak abilities allows for some visuals we haven’t seen before. I’m still a bit partial to the practical stuff from Alex Winter’s Freaked, but I can’t really hold that as a reference for all audiences. The effects are the usual, believable enough for the world of CGI movies, but still blurry.
John C. Reilly proves a master showman, so that alone is worth seeing, or at least scanning to on the DVD. The freaks are the cool kids. The “normals” act like idiots and Crepsley (Reilly) is a badass. The film has a nonchalant approach to the macabre, with its willingness to kill kids (well, teenagers).
It’s really kind of this generation’s Once Bitten. Darren (Chris Massoglia) learns to adjust to his new abilities, right down to eating raw beef. His powers only create a few awkward situations though. They could’ve had more fun with that. It’s all training, but there’s no montage so it’s drawn out and lacks punch.
Flitting is an interesting power. It’s not flying, and you have to take rests to breathe. That’s kind of funny. The fast vampires fighting is a little cartoony, just enough to be hyper real, not enough to be Evil Dead. Super strong characters hurling heavy things at each other isn’t new, but it passes the time.
The humor is really sporadic, like a few oases in an authentic world, when more are needed. The basic slapstick of a pratfall is hilarious in this context and the one liners are really clever. There’s just so few.
There is an interesting perspective to the world in here. Crepsley’s comment, “Life is meaningless. Death I still have hope for” suggests a more profound view of immortality than anything Twilight or True Blood is saying. Yet the basic story has no weight. Someone’s in trouble, you don’t really care. Subtext only works when the text is powerful too.
There’s a potential war brewing but I don’t feel much pull to see it prevented or resolved. Fight a war, it’s probably more entertaining that way. It’s the dilemma of franchise filmmaking. You can’t consciously try to set up a franchise. You have to deliver all you’ve got, then come up with something better next time. So maybe if the trilogy rules, I’ll look back on this as the obligatory establishing shot.