Review: Nicolas Cage is Dracula in Horror-Action-Comedy Renfield, About A Toxic, Blood-Sucking Friendship
Like most “original” ideas from “The Walking Dead” and “Invincible” creator Robert Kirkman, Renfield isn’t that original, but it is damn fun. From director Chris McKay (The LEGO Batman Movie, The Tomorrow War) and a screenplay by Rick & Morty writer Ryan Ridley, Renfield shifts the focus of the Dracula legend to the count’s long-time familiar Renfield. Played by the affable Nicholas Hoult, the actor seems to have adopted some of Hugh Grant’s more charming affectations now that Grant is clearly having a blast playing villains these days (though the two did star together in About A Boy when Hoult was very young). For those not well-versed in vampire lore, a “familiar” takes care of his vampire master’s needs both at night (bringing him innocent victims to feed on) and during the day (protecting the sleeping bloodsucker while he sleeps).
It just so happens that Renfield has spent a couple hundred years or so looking after the daddy of all vampires, Count Dracula (played to perfection by Nicolas Cage), and in the present day, the two have relocated to New Orleans, where Renfield is beginning to regret his youthful decision to serve this narcissistic monster. We get a glimpse of their early days together in a flashback that cleverly looks a lot like the original 1931 Universal version of Dracula, with Bela Lugosi either face-replaced by Cage, or they perfectly reshot the borrowed scenes from the original. Renfield has been given certain powers by Dracula that are triggered whenever Renfield eats bugs; he gets super strength and knows quite lethal forms of martial arts. His punches are so strong, in fact, that he can knock your head clean off, or pulverize every organ and bone in your body with one blow. Needless to say, the film does not skimp on the blood and guts; if anything, it amplifies them.
When he’s not looking after or providing for his master, Renfield attends a self-help meeting for people in toxic relationships. He hears stories about mental abuse and extreme cases of codependency, and sees a great deal of himself in these situations. He decides to kill two birds with one stone and hunts down the partners of the people in his meeting as food for Dracula, but in doing so, he inadvertently gets tangled up with drug dealer Tedward Lobo (Ben Schwartz), whose mother Bellafrancesca (the great Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo) is the city’s top crime boss. While attempting the good deed of saving a bar filled with people from Lobo’s goon, Renfield meets beat cop Rebecca (Awkwafina), whose police officer father was killed by the Lobos, and she’s seeking revenge every chance she can get.
Renfield is an action-horror-comedy, and overall, it tends to strike a solid balance of the three. There are moments having to do with themes of Renfield’s traumatic subservient status, wanting to bring a little good into the world, and making up for some for of the work he’s done on behalf of Dracula that slow the film down at points, but for the most part, the pacing is pretty brisk. The humor in the film is what keeps things moving more than anything, but Cage is clearly taken over completely playing the dark lord. He plays it nasty, but does some hilarious line reads with a simpering Renfield that are really hilarious. I need to give credit to Brandon Scott Jones as the support group’s leader Mark, who has the self-help lingo down and helps Renfield metaphorically crawl toward his escape route. Awkwafina is not only funny but she follows up her action-heavy appearance in Shang-Chi to truly kick ass here in a couple of great fight sequences.
I would never be so bold as to imply that Renfield was a great comedy (the jokes about ska music are a little overdone and dated), action piece, or horror film, but it does all three to varying degrees quite well, and that rich combination makes for a fun crowd-pleaser.
The film is now playing in theaters.
Did you enjoy this post? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by making a donation. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support!