REVIEW — “Renfield”
Like many in his self-help group, Robert Montague Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) is trapped in a toxic, codependent relationship with a monster, except his abuser is an actual monster, the Nosferatu famously known as Count Dracula (Nicolas Cage). Based on an original idea by The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, Renfield examines the Dracula mythos from the eyes of his slave.
After a hilariously bloody opening action scene that highlights how Renfield spends his life stuck in an endless cycle of cleaning up Dracula’s messes, the film cuts to a well-edited, black-and-white montage that shows how the mild mannered realtor came to be the Count’s cursed servant. The scene cleverly superimposes Cage and Hoult into clips from Universal’s 1931 classic Dracula, with Cage standing in for Bela Lugosi’s famous blood-sucker.
Back in present day New Orleans, Dracula is now a rotting narcissist convalescing in an abandoned hospital with his aspirations set on world domination. But first, he must regain his full powers by feasting on innocent victims. In service of his master, Renfield makes like Dexter and delivers the his friends’ abusers to Drac, but they are rejected for they are criminals with tainted blood. Instead, Dracula requests the blood of happy couples, nuns, and cheerleaders.
While Dracula feeds off the blood of innocents to stay powerful, Renfield gains his strength to do his master’s bidding by eating bugs and insects. However, Renfield is conflicted by his immoral duties. He starts to listen to his conscience and with the help of his group leader Mark (Brandon Scott Jones), begins developing a desire for independence and freedom from his dark curse.
Renfield is also changed after meeting fearless, non-nonsense, police officer and potential love interest, Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina). An honest cop in a corrupt city, she inspires him to finally stand up to Dracula and step out of his shadow. While the reliably loud and cranky Awkwafina delivers most of the film’s funniest lines and even gets to dabble in action, Hoult is perfectly endearing as the title character—and got practice playing a similarly pasty, pensive, and emotionally sensitive protagonist a decade ago in the horror comedy, Warm Bodies.
Director Chris McKay (The Lego Batman Movie, The Tomorrow War) delivers the goods in both action and comedy. The film’s brutal and blood-soaked action scenes are simultaneously gory and hilarious. I’m talking torn-off limbs, severed heads, exploding torsos, and even a kill that could be mistaken as a hat-tip to Cage’s classic Face-Off.
Cage is deliciously over-the-top in this role. A return to form, he is magnetic as The Prince of Darkness. He sinks his sharp acting teeth deep into Bram Stoker’s classic character and even injects his signature Cage-isms complete with hoots, hollers, and yips. And the always reliable Ben Schwartz is a scene-stealer as insecure nepo baby/ mob-boss wanna-be, Teddy Lobo. The film also stars Adrian Martinez and Shohreh Aghdashloo.
A great popcorn flick, Renfield is buckets of bloody fun with a quite high re-watchability factor thanks to its merciless kills, relentless gags, and off-the-wall action. 3.5/5
Rated R with a running time of 1 hour, 33 minutes, Renfield opens in theaters April 14, 2023.