Review: Renfield

Renfield poster

You thought vampires were done? Apparently not!

Decades after their fateful meeting, Robert M. Renfield is still an immortal familiar of Count Dracula. But even after all these years, Renfield starts to want more out of life than servitude.

When studying the DNA of this film, the end result makes a lot of sense. Directed by Chris McKay, mind behind The Lego Batman Movie, and written by Ryan Ridley and Robert Kirkman, a combo of Rick and Morty and The Walking Dead, respectively. Starring Nicolas Cage as Dracula, Nicholas Hoult as Renfield, and Awkwafina (Shang-Chi) as a cop caught in the madness, yeah, Renfield is utter madness but also a lot of slick, stupid fun.

Vampires are pretty tired in media these days. After being used (and abused) over the last twenty years or so, the direction they can take is quite limited now. Besides… taking a break? But the trailer for Renfield is not only extremely likable and draws you in with Cage’s seemingly perfect casting as the Count, but it is also a very accurate trailer. A pure comedy outing with an absurd amount of gore and over the top violence.

Nic Cage and Nicolas Hoult
How many Nics does it take to make a new vampire movie good? Two, apparently.

Fans of the Bram Stoker original fable Dracula will need to suspend their disbelief while watching Renfield; it is very, very tongue-in-cheek. We have Robert Renfield alive and… pretty sane, really… in contemporary America, having fled there with the Count’s battered and charred remains after a close call with some vampire hunters. His primary duty; to restore the Count to full power again.

But Renfield is resolute that he himself is not a monster. He attends group therapy sessions revolving around people with boss problems, not only for his own sanity, but also so he can track down these abusers and feed them to his vampiric master. But things get complicated, as he uses powers granted to him by Dracula to achieve these ends, Renfield becomes embroiled in a police/gang power struggle for the very soul of the city.

He also rips a man’s arms off, and spears two other guys with them.

Yeah, this film is ridiculous.

But really, if you see the trailer or even simply know Nic Cage is playing Dracula, you should know that it is going to be absurd. But it is a good kind of absurd.
The writing and the jokes almost always land; the audience was laughing at the right moments (myself included) while the film also balanced the slapstick and horror remarkably well. It shouldn’t be understated; this is a gory film (two pairs of people were seen leaving the screening mid-way through) as Renfield’s superhuman powers allow him to tear people apart. Never mind what Dracula can do.

There’s something pleasing about watching a film that is a riff on something old, but with established contemporary ideas. The film opens with reformatted black and white footage of Cage and Hoult circa 1930s; inspired heavily from Bela Lugosi’s turn as the monster. This was wonderful, and in a lot of ways, you can see Cage’s inspiration being from Lugosi (and Christopher Lee) although a lot more gory.
The film goes on to have a real superhero vibe. The aftershocks from Marvel Studios are felt in real-time here, as characters blast through windows and walls, shoot with impeccable aim, and all the while are trivializing the most awful or insane events happening around them. But importantly, it works.

Nic Cage in the distant past
Going back in time!

Sure, it isn’t going to set the world alight, but Renfield is a fun little horror caper that proves that some good can come from the Marvel effect. Short, nifty little experiences with an elevator-pitch sized plot, where actors can just have fun with the material. Kudos to Awkwafina, who plays the “straight man” beside the two goofy Nics, while also giving a great comedic performance of her own.

The plot may be a little over complicated for its premise. Dracula gives himself a new goal, and really, it got lost in the fray and probably wasn’t necessary to get the sparks flying in the final act. The storyline of police corruption also didn’t feel entirely necessary, or at least not as heavily as it appeared. But the film is only 90 minutes long, it needs something to flesh out the characters, and it didn’t drag at any of these points.

Overall, it was delightfully silly, as the trailer suggested. If you are a fan of horror cinema, or even comedy action cinema (and can handle gore) this is definitely recommended.

3.5 out of 5

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