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Fantastic Fest Review: Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant

By  · Published on October 26th, 2009

When I was thirteen, I remember specifically complaining that there weren’t that many books being written for 13-year old boys. There are children’s books, classics, and novels, but nothing really made featuring the interests that come between youth and adulthood. Most likely because the only thing 13-year old boys are interested in is 13-year old girls.

I’ve had the same complaint about movies since I was about that age. It seems like directly aiming for PG-13 is harder than it looks, but The Vampire’s Assistant nails down a story and action that seems perfect for that age.

Darren (Chris Massoglia) and Steve (Josh Hutcherson) are best friends despite different upbringings and personalities. They both attend a mysterious Freak Show populated by fantastical beings, and Darren joins the ranks of the undead by becoming a vampire, but Steve will have his own, darker journey to go through.

This movie is a ton of fun. It shoots for the middle in the ways that it has to, but it’s tailor-made for a younger crowd that needs the sex and violence toned down a bit. Even without the geysers of blood that I love so much, the action is engaging, well-choreographed and shot strongly. Plus, the whole thing benefits greatly from John C. Reilly (in the mentor role as the vampire Crepsley). He brings a weight of dramatics and the ease of a dry sense of humor for a character who has been alive long enough to have seen almost everything.

But it’s not without its flaws – most of which stem from having to shoot for the middle. Chris Massoglia is a passable talent, but he’s nothing to write home about as an actor. Essentially, he fulfills the role of an un-noteworthy kid with the incredible skill it takes to be un-noteworthy. Hutcherson has been around longer and flashes a bit more acting strength in a role that’s new to him. Unfortunately, although most of their performances are clever and sweet, the freaks have very little screen time which makes it hard to tell a movie about a boy rejecting his former family for a new one a little lopsided. This is probably most symbolized by Jane Krakowski’s character where the production had to do an intense amount of CGI for a character with less than ten lines of dialog.

There are also some scenes that lay flat on the screen without much life to them – hampered mostly by line delivery and the generic pitch of the script in the first place. The problem with a movie like this is the problem lying at the core of why there aren’t many movies like this. It’s aiming at an audience in limbo between childhood and adulthood and has to self-lobotomize a bit in order to keep the emotional range (as well as the sex and violence) muted. It’s a hindrance to good storytelling, but it’s probably a necessary almost-evil.

In a lot of ways, it feels like a lot of young adult entries from the 90s – like Blank Check mixed with Little Monsters. The premises are straight from the fantasy-life of a pre-teen, the world is a little more grown up, but the emotions and dramatics are a bit too schmaltzy to be remembered. And maybe it’s because it’s such a confusing time in the life of the target audience that the movie (and others like it) come out looking gawky and awkward with more blemishes than we’d normally want a film to have.

But the filmmakers walk the line fairly well here, only tripping off the balance beam a handful of times. For the most part, the flick is engaging with an interesting take on the best friend dynamic and the ultimate question of whether a friendship can survive as two people grow up and grow apart. Toss that in with some strange carnie folks, a vampire civil war, and a love interest with a tail, and it makes for a fun family movie.

The Upside: Some good characters inhabiting a strange world and John C. Reilly calling everything bullshit.

The Downside: It dims the lights but doesn’t go too dark, and it stays middle of the unremarkable road from time to time.

On the Side: This is Chris Massoglia’s first movie.

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.