Spectacular trailers are the ultimate double-edged swords. They get you incredibly hyped for the movie, but also set expectations far too high. At first I had no clue what Cirque Du Freak was, but after seeing the trailer I was hooked. Everything about it from the music to the fades to black as the main characters ride their bikes to the theater, make my spine tingle. Even after seeing the movie, the trailer still gives me chills. Sadly, the film didn’t have the same effect. My love of Cirque du Freak fell, but fell much harder as a result of my high hopes.
Darren (Chris Massoglia) is every parent’s dream. He’s polite, gets great grades and even does his chores. The part of Darren’s life that mom and dad don’t approve of is his friendship with Steve (Josh Hutcherson), a troublemaker with an unstable family. When they find out about a mysterious freak show called the Cirque Du Freak, both boys are psyched to go check it out. Naturally, Darren’s parents don’t approve of the idea and refuse to let him go. Well, that’s nothing a bedroom window can’t fix. Darren sneaks out of the house to see the show.
A one-night event turns into a life changing experience after Darren meets an actual vampire, Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly). Unlike Steve, Darren doesn’t care much for vampires and finds himself in a sticky situation after stealing one of Crepsley’s prized possessions. Darren winds up making a deal with Crepsley in order to save Steve’s life and agrees to be turned into a half-vampire. He fakes his own death and goes to live at the Cirque’s camp where he befriends Evra the Snake Boy (Patrick Fugit) and Rebecca the Monkey Girl (Jessica Carlson). Meanwhile, Steve is busy getting caught up with the evil vampire faction called the Vampaneze. Vampires like Crepsley make a small incision in their victims and just get a quick sip, but the Vampaneze ruthlessly kill their victims taking as much blood as they’d like. These two warring groups are currently at peace, but that tranquility is about to break down with Darren and Steve right in the middle of it.
Cirque Du Freak is a lot of fun, but far too childish to be taken seriously. The danger is there, but never feels real enough to make you uneasy. Even when Darren is in danger, it’s implicitly implied that he’s going to be okay. Yes, in most films we know the protagonist is going to make it out alive, but there’s never even a hint of peril. The fight scenes are so packed with a campy CGI ‘swish’ trail the speedy vampires leave behind, you can barely even see the battles.
Not that you’ll even care if Darren is injured in the fights; he’s a terrible hero. The fault is mainly Massoglia’s. He’s unengaging and frequently manages to fade into the background even when he’s the primary character on screen. Even when he becomes half-vampire and sheds his nerdy image for his ‘cool’ look consisting of slicked back hair and a red leather jacket, he’s still a bore. I’d rather have seen more of Hutcherson. Yes, his role is packed with typical good-friend-gone-evil clichés, but at least he brings him to life. I was more concerned for Steve than Darren. Crepsley isn’t anything great either. His wittiest lines don’t pack enough of a punch and, overall, he’s far too unlikeable. He’s meant to be hard on Darren, but mocks him to excess. You never get the sense that Crepsley is wise enough to be Darren’s mentor making him hard to respect. Even with that fiery orange hair Reilly doesn’t pop onscreen as he usually does.
Picking apart Cirque Du Freak and examining each element makes the film look like an utter failure, but considering the film as a whole, sheds a better light upon it. The concept is intriguing. It’s got some of the same vampire junk we’ve been bombarded with, but throwing in the Cirque, sets the film far apart from the rest. The Cirque Du Freak is the best part of the film. The characters are fascinating and the camp they live in is vivid and captivating. It’s a blast meeting all of the characters and getting a look at their wacky abilities. Did you ever think you’d see Salma Hayek with a beard?
If only Cirque Du Freak could stay afloat on its general appeal alone. It lacks the depth and sincerity of others of its kind like the Harry Potter and Twilight series. Cirque Du Freak is far too juvenile. The Harry Potter and Twilight books are meant for young adults yet still have a dark side; there’s no reason Weitz and co-writer Brian Helgeland couldn’t have done the same with this film. In fact, that’s exactly what Cirque Du Freak needs in order to be considered a good film; mature dialogue. Realistically the story is ridiculous, but you’re not supposed to be thinking about that while you’re watching the movie. A more serious undertone would get audiences to take the film sincerely. As it is, I expect many to just brush it off as a mere children’s film.
Cirque Du Freak is based on the first of four trilogies making up Darren Shan’s The Saga of Darren Shan collection. There’s no doubt Universal Pictures has hopes to turn the film into a series, I just don’t know if it’s going to happen. The potential of a second film completely rides on the success of the first, which is going to be a toss up. It may be on the childish side, but Cirque Du Freak is entertaining and deserves a second go-around.