‘Renfield’ MOVIE REVIEW: Nicolas Cage is Dracula in Passable Horror-Comedy


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Nicolas Cage is the latest Dracula to hit the big screen in Renfield, a horror-comedy that focuses on the Transylvanian vampire’s titular familiar/slave, played by Nicholas Hoult.

The plot tells of how the meek and defeated Renfield attempts to distance himself from the oppressive Count, whom he has served loyally for decades. Renfield, you see, had met the vampire in the early twentieth century, back when he was a lawyer attempting to make a deal for some land. Things took a massive turn when Dracula decided to make the lawyer his familiar, leading Renfield to years of servitude, providing his master with countless victims and putting up with years abuse. Renfield and Dracula are now in New Orleans, holed up in an abandoned hospital, and Renfield, he’s found a self-help group for people that are stuck in co-dependent relationships. I should mention that Renfield has his own powers: super strength and speed – he just needs to consume bugs in order to acquire them.

Renfield is a violent, surprisingly gory flick, but with an ultra-light comedic tone that makes it broadly palatable. Director Chris McKay (The Lego Batman Movie, The Tomorrow War) and screenwriter Ryan Ridley (Rick and Morty, Invincible) mostly nail the simplistic tonal balance it’s going for, providing over-the-top kills and goofy humour, while keeping the plot moving at a quick enough pace to keep you from dwelling on the familiarity of it all.

It’s an easy-to-digest film, although one can’t help but feel like McKay and company hold back from really tackling the concept. Renfield has a basic pitch: Dracula’s assistant attempts to leave. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t do all that much to expand this logline into something memorable and original. That being said, Renfield does make for chill viewing for those that want some easy laughs and some buckets of gore. The action sequences, while entertaining enough, aren’t anything special – although there are a few imaginative kills to provide some giggles.

I will point out that the film does keep a nice focus on its key theme: co-dependent relationships and the narcissistic traits of those that can drive them. While it’s far from an in-depth exploration, I appreciated that film keeps a hold on this as a much-needed layer to the overall narrative.

The film certainly benefits from having a solid cast. The reliable Nicholas Hoult is good in the title role, creating an empathetic character that’s easy enough to root for. It did seem as though there was more to Renfield that could have been explored, though, such as the fact that he had people in his life when he was turned all those years ago. Awkwafina is fun as Rebecca, the tough, no-BS-taking cop that Renfield falls for, and her character is given enough to elevate her from solely being a love interest. And Ben Schwartz gives an amusing performance as wannabe gangster badass Tedward, providing some laughs as a simpleton mobster with mummy issues. As his mother, matriarch mob boss Bellafrancesca, Shohreh Aghdashloo is good as usual, although the character is too glossed over to make much of a mark.

Of course, it’s Nicolas Cage as Count Dracula that serves as the film’s key drawcard. Cage fans should enjoy seeing the actor chew it up as this fanged, self-aggrandising, human-hating a-hole. The actor sure looks to be having fun in the role, homaging past performances of the character and easily running off with the scene when it calls for it. I just wanted more of this Dracula – or at least a few more layers, since you just know Cage is good for it. Yes, it’s Renfield’s movie, but having a Dracula with a little more depth would have given the film’s core relationship and Renfield’s plight much more weight.

Renfield is a breezy horror-comedy, with a self-aware angle that proudly leans into campy comedy. While it does have good elements, there’s no denying that it’s a surfacy studio flick with 90 minutes of featherweight, easily forgettable entertainment. Don’t go in wanting much more, and you should be satisfied… more or less. If only it had the fangs to draw more life than that.