Short Version: Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant is an entertaining "alternative" vampire movie that should appeal to teens - but it's NOT for younger kids.
Screen Rant reviews Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant
I haven't read the books this movie is based on (from what I understand, the first three books of a 12 book series - a lot to cram into one film) and I didn't have any preconceived notions about it good or bad going in. Based on trailers and commercials I really didn't know what to expect, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised... in most part due to John C. Reilly's performance as Larten Crepsley, mentor to our burgeoning hero Darren Shan (played by Chris Massoglia).
Darren Shan is your basic "good kid" teenager. He gets good grades, stays out of trouble and listens to his overly "square" parents. He's best friends with Steve (Josh Hutcherson), the "wild kid" who's had a rough upbringing and has stood up for Darren over the years. They find out a freakshow (Cirque du Freak) is coming to their little hole in the wall town, and Steve talks Darren into sneaking out to see it. At the freakshow we meet Mr. Tall (played wonderfully by Ken Watanabe) - the man who runs the show and plays head of the family for the assorted misfits we are about to meet.
Some slight spoilers follow as an FYI to parents.
The stage show is VERY creepy for a film that parents may think about bringing younger kids to... It includes a man with a super-narrow midsection with his internal organs exposed, a man with two huge, grotesque stomachs and a scene where a werewolf rips off a woman's arm. Throughout the film there are fight scenes that are very dark, aggressive and creepy, and some of the characters may be disturbing to kids under 10 in my opinion - under 8 or so I'd say forget it.
Steve feels he has nothing to lose and wants to become a vampire, while of course Darren has no interest - guess what happens. Eventually Darren is "blooded" by Mr. Crepsley, who does this to protect Darren from the also quite creepy Mr. Tiny (Michael Cerveris, who gives another effective, if over the top, performance). It seems Mr. Tiny's mission in life is nothing short of bringing on the apocalypse and he's looking for a young man to fulfill some prophecy.
There's a split in the vampire community - there are "good" vampires like Mr. Crepsley, who figured out (finally, if you ask me) that it's better to just draw some blood from a victim and leave them alive with no memory of what happened than to kill them, thus avoiding the whole "driven out of town by people with pitchforks" scenario. On the other hand there are the "old school" vampires called the "Vampanese" who kill their victims and drain them dry (Mr. Tiny, while not a vampire, is on their side).
Mr. Crepsley decides to hide Darren among the freaks in their circus camp. We meet a variety of characters including the rather engaging snake-man Evra Von (Patrick Fugit) and the rather normal looking young lady Rebecca (Jessica Carlson). Eventually Darren comes to see them as people and not as whatever oddity they display.
The film is an odd combination of humor and serious/kid-scary scenes. John C. Reilly is really a joy to watch in every scene, conveying the ascerbic humor of his character perfectly. I also enjoyed the heck out of Ken Watanabe here - so wonderfully... strange. And I couldn't take my eyes off the creepy, mesmerizing Michael Cervis as Mr. Tiny. Salma Hayek co-stars with her abundant cleavage (see the movie and you'll get what I mean - not that I'm complaining) and Willem Defoe makes a brief appearance that is memorable despite his lack of screen time. The young leads were adequate, but nothing very memorable - Massoglia was no doubt chosen for his teen eye candy appeal.
While The Vampire's Assistant is a hard movie to nail down as far as tone, I really did find myself enjoying it for what it was throughout its entirety. I think teens and even adults might enjoy it, but leave the little ones at home for this one - trust me on that.