April 14, 2023 / Universal Pictures
Nicholas Hoult, Nicolas Cage, Awkwafina, Ben Schwartz, Adrian Martinez and Shohreh Aghdashloo
In this modern monster tale of Dracula’s loyal servant, Nicholas Hoult stars as Renfield, the tortured aide to history’s most narcissistic boss, Dracula (Nicolas Cage). Renfield is forced to procure his master’s prey and do his every bidding, no matter how debased. But now, after centuries of servitude, Renfield is ready to see if there’s a life outside the shadow of The Prince of Darkness. If only he can figure out how to end his codependency.
Written By Darren
Rating 2.5 out of 5
Renfield features the always incredible Nicolas Cage going all out with his brilliant portrayal of Count Dracula, but the rest of the film struggles to find its footing with a tonal inconsistency that leaves the rest of the cast with an uninspired story that is rather lifeless.
From the second the trailer for Renfield dropped, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the film. But I immediately knew that this was a film that could not be missed on the big screen with Nicolas Cage portraying Dracula. And while Cage was on screen, the film does not disappoint for a second as he proves himself to be the incredible actor completely dedicated to his craft we all know him to be. Though this is only a small part of Renfield, and while Cage is not on screen the film suffers from an uneven tone and too many plotlines occurring at once in its ninety minute run time, which ultimately prevents the movie from being the campy horror comedy it strove so hard to be.
For decades, Renfield has faithfully served his master Dracula, bringing Dracula unsuspecting victims to quench his thirst for blood and protecting him from those who seek to kill him. But time has worn Renfield down, forcing him to come to the realization that he is not happy with his life and decides he must break free from his master and the toxic relationship he finds himself in. This leads him to team up with Rebecca, a cop in New Orleans, dead set on bringing down the local crime who was responsible for her father’s death, whom Renfield begins to develop feelings for.
The beginning of the film sets the story up to be a deconstruction of the toxic male relationship between Dracula and Renfield, told through humour and Renfield’s narration during his addiction group meetings. It’s a fascinating narrative for the film to explore, and it starts off the film in the right direction. The black and white history of Renfield and Dracula is a nice homage to Dracula’s origins as one of Universal Pictures’ classic horror villains and the character’s overall legacy in cinema. As we move to modern time, the film utilizes a goofy but fun tone with Renfield trying to break free of his narcissistic boss through his addiction group. This aspect of the story gives the spotlight to Cage’s Dracula, who is without question the highlight of the entire film, but once the film introduces the crime plot with Awkwafina’s Rebecca, the story begins to crumble. There is too much going on in this ninety minute plot with the crime narrative, forcing the film to put the Dracula and Renfield relationship to the back burner while an uninspired procedural drama plays out with predictable twists and turns and no emotion. Pun fully intended, but this shift in narrative sucks the soul out of the film, leaving the audience with lifeless jokes that fail to land the majority of the time and makes the ninety minute run time feel much longer than it actually is.
There is an emphasis on gory, over the top action sequences throughout the film. It is reminiscent of the Zombieland films as it blends gory action in a comedic tone as limbs are ripped from bodies and blood explodes across the screen. The choreography to these sequences is energetic and flashy, delivering some exciting moments with the hilarious use of gore that is a welcome reprieve from the uninteresting narrative playing out over the film. However, once the action stops, we are back to a story which cannot figure out what it wants to be, playing out like a film from the mid 2000s that was just discovered and released today, missing the benchmark of what audiences have come to expect from their films.
Thankfully, Cage is absolutely phenomenal as Dracula. Every second on screen, he puckers his lips and brings to life cinema’s favourite Transylvanian with such vigorous energy. It’s a very comedic approach to the character as Cage employs self pity and narcissism to create not merely a blood sucking vampire, but a truly horrible individual, but it works perfectly with the tone the film is striving for. When Cage is on screen, you can see the potential this film had, but after the first act Cage is unfortunately pushed to the side and you miss him dearly for the majority of the second act. Had there been a lot more of Cage’s Dracula in this film, it would have been a far more entertaining watch.
Apart from Cage, the performances of the film did not fully connect with me. While I think Nicholas Hoult is a truly underrated actor, he was given very little material to work with and was unconvincing as Renfield. His on screen chemistry with his costars was lacking due to the writing, which ultimately sank the film with him as the central character. Awkwafina and Ben Schwartz are terrific comedians, but the two of them are typecast and served up with mediocre jokes that they even struggle to make funny. Shohreh Aghdashloo has the right presence to make for a juicy villain, but she barely gets any screen time nor is she given a fascinating motive to work with other than “textbook corrupt villain” narrative. Brandon Scott James has some fun moments as Renfield’s addiction counselor, though they are too far and few between and largely spoiled by the film’s marketing.
Aside from Nicolas Cage’s performance and the action, there is not much more to this film that was particularly good with the exception of Renfield’s rainbow sweater which was just an excellent costume choice, and T.C. Matherne’s Kyle. Matherne’s character is the butt end of so many jokes, and while we know very little about his character, he plays being the punching post for Awkwafina’s Rebecca perfectly and helps deliver some of the funniest moments of the film.
While it had the potential to be a new cult classic horror comedy, Renfield ultimately squanders its intriguing premise and reverts to a generic mid 2000s action comedy that truly lacks entertainment value. There is no denying that Nicolas Cage gives us the best portrayal of Dracula since Christopher Lee’s iconic turn that is reason enough to watch this film, but beyond that, Renfield fails to find the balance between it’s competing storylines and themes that renders the film a true missed opportunity.