Nicolas Cage and Nicholas Hoult star in Renfield, a horror action comedy with great performances despite a lackluster script.
Anyone who’s been in any job knows what it’s like to have a toxic boss. Their presence ever-looms, and they keep sucking and sucking your soul until there’s nothing left. (No I’m definitely not thinking of someone while writing this). Now, imagine having to deal with that same boss for a hundred years, and the only hint of gratitude is that you’re still alive. Now that’s a premise for a horror comedy.
Bram Stoker’s R.M. Renfield and Count Dracula are one of the most famous depictions of the minimum wage worker and their manager who thinks they’re more important than they actually are. In most renditions, Renfield is deranged and fanatically devoted to his master, luring innocent victims to him and getting bugs as a treat.
Chris Mckay’s Renfield gives the infamous familiar a little more padding and further explores his relationship with the famous vampire. After decades of being an errand boy, Robert Montague Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) is fed up. He’s sick of being the brunt of Count Dracula’s cruelty (Nicolas Cage) but doesn’t know how to escape this toxic relationship.
But after attending Co-Dependents Anonymous meetings and saving a traffic cop (Awkwafina) from getting murdered, Renfield realizes that only he has the power to free himself from years of psychological torment. The only problem being the fact that his boss is quite literally the most evil creature in the world and won’t let him go so easily.
“I just want a normal life again.”
From the start, Renfield had great potential to be a solid take on the classic Dracula lore. It’s at its strongest when exploring the power dynamics of interpersonal relationships. There are a lot of lessons here about dealing with narcissistic partners, distancing yourself from them, and starting life anew. Hoult carries most of the film’s emotional weight as he begins to learn how to finally advocate for himself.
Unfortunately, the film diverts more attention to the subplots, where most of the action scenes occur. On top of dealing with Dracula, Renfield also has to take on a crime family, which has no purpose except for wanting to become the biggest organization in New Orleans. Despite having Ben Schwartz and the dazzling Shohreh Aghdashloo leading the pack, it feels like a ham-fisted attempt to give the film a broader appeal.
That being said, the grislier enjoyment comes into play in these gangland set pieces, with over-the-top blood and practical effects that will make any gore fan giddy. More scenes like these would’ve been nice, but the few we do get make for a bloody good time.
A soul-sucking performance.
Of course, the crème de la crème of Renfield is Cage as Dracula, a role longtime coming since Vampire’s Kiss. He channels Bela Lugosi while inserting his “Cageisms” into the role. He’s conviving, polished, and carries himself with the utmost confidence. The only thing that’s missing is Dracula’s sexual appetite, a staple of other adaptations.
Hoult and Cage’s chemistry makes Renfield shine brighter than it should, and it’s a tragedy that they barely have any scenes together. But when they do, you feel the tension and abuse from this decades-old relationship. It starkly contrasts Awkwafina and Hoult’s chemistry which feels stilted and awkward.
It’s unclear whether Renfield is Universal’s latest answer to rebooting the Universal Monster franchise, but if it is, it’s an okay start. While it sometimes loses track of its big ideas, the film still manages to have fun and not take itself too seriously. With all the lousy vampire movies out there (not including the one that will not be named), that’s as big of a win as any.
Renfield is now available to watch in theaters. Watch the trailer here.
Images courtesy of Universal Pictures
RENFIELD - 7/10