Published on October 23rd, 2009 | by Padraic Coffey


Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant (2009)

Take the Oscar-winning screenwriter of L.A. Confidential and an actor used to working with Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson. Pair them together in a film tackling the subgenre of horror that seems to have captured the zeitgeist like no other at the moment, the Vampire story. What do you get? A bit of a mess, really.

To be fair to both Brian Helgeland and John C. Reilly, Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant is not aimed at an audience they usually cater to. An adaptation of Darren Shan’s Vampire Blood trilogy of ‘young adult’ horror novels, the film centres on teenager Darren (Chris Massoglia) and his best friend Steve (Josh Hutcherson) as they attend an illegal freak show, lead by Reilly, in their dreary town, and are subsequently sucked into a world of snake boys, bearded ladies and century-old wars between different sects of the Vampire world.

In a month that alone sees HBO series True Blood arrive on DVD and the cinema release of Thirst, from director Park Chan-wook of Oldboy fame, The Vampire’s Assistant might be viewed as a more teen-friendly take on an age-old myth, but it’s hard to see how any teenager could take pleasure in a film so devoid of tension or scares.

It’s also hard to believe that the man who adapted James Ellroy’s magnum opus into such a wonderful script could pen dialogue as banal as the opening voiceover of musings on the unpredictability of life with all the wisdom of an agony aunt column. Although the narration is soon ditched, one almost wishes it were kept around for unintentional comic effect, which may have relieved some of the films boredom.

Matters aren’t helped by the CGI-heavy special effects, which are no better than a well-budgeted TV show, or by the frankly uncharismatic performances from its two teen leads. Of course, it may seem irrelevant to criticise a fantasy film on issues like the acting or screenplay, but when the film is directed by Paul Weitz, whose brother and frequent collaborator Chris is directing the next instalment in the billion dollar Twilight franchise, comparisons are inevitable, and do The Vampire’s Assistant little service.

In a nutshell: If you can’t wait for the upcoming New Moon… be more patient. This isn’t going to fill that bat-shaped void.


About the Author

Padraic Coffey is a freelance writer and film critic who currently lives in Vancouver, Canada. He has written for the Sunday Independent, Ireland's largest circulation newspaper, and Trinity College, Dublin, ranked in the top 100 best universities in the world by the QS World University Rankings in 2014. Additionally, his film criticism has appeared on Volta - Ireland's first VOD website - as well as sites such as Taste of Cinema, Film Jam and Head Stuff.

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