Movie Review: ‘Renfield’ (Second Opinion)

Director: Chris McKay

Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Nicolas Cage, Awkwafina, Ben Schwartz, Shohreh Aghdashloo

Plot: Robert Montague Renfield has spent decades has Count Dracula’s familiar, fetching him victims, covering his tracks and helping him recover if attacked. In the modern day the efforts of a support group help Renfield take control of his life once more.

Review: Now here’s an odd little film that seems to keeping a finger in as many genres as possible. We’ve got a comedic premise and comedy actors, horrifically gory horror, superhero style action and a bit of romance because Hollywood films legally require a suitable coupling of our heroes. As to how well Renfield manages to balance these elements, that’s where it stumbles. Each individual aspect is fine but they don’t quite line up neatly enough to produce a consistent movie experience.

Universal Studios has a funny relationship with its classic horror characters. They scored some big hits way back in the early decades of cinema and have been chasing that dragon ever since. Whether sincere, edgy modern tellings of parodies, Universal frequently try to make lightning strike the high tower again with the recent attempts at a shared cinematic universe akin to Marvel failing terribly between the flops of Dracula Untold and The Mummy. Having seen these projects fall flat against the success of the barmy What We Do In the Shadows, which has produced many spin-offs by riffing on the classic vampire archetypes mostly created by Universal, they’ve tried to do their own comedic version of Dracula. Renfield is framed as a direct sequel to the 1931 classic Dracula, with the modern actors being inserted into old footage.

Many, many lonely years after the events of that movie we find Renfield (Hoult) facing a crisis of confidence in the lifestyle. To subjugate the guilt of feeding the literal beast, Renfield attends self-help groups to identify abusers that he can take to Dracula (Cage), himself hiding out while recovering from an encounter with a vampire hunter. While out looking for victims, Renfield crosses paths with Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina), a police officer looking to take on the Italian mob. The two wind up joining forces to bring down mobster Teddy (Schwartz) while helping Renfield find independence. Unfortunately for them, the mob have joined forces with Dracula.

The gimmick here is pretty simple and amusing. Bringing these classic characters into a modern setting and applying ideas of self-help and managing abusive relationships leads to some fun encounters and situations. This is all the more fun with Nicolas Cage playing the camp menace with all his weird tics and mannerisms. The problem is that this isn’t a character piece, it’s a mash-up of genre films, so we don’t spend a great deal of time seeing the interaction between Renfield, Dracula and Rebecca. The rest of the running time is padded out with the whacky shenanigans of Teddy and his gangster mates. We’re consistently entertained by Schwartz playing an asshole, but it always feels like an attempt to stretch the idea into a full script when we just want more Nicolas Cage being a Dracula.

Nicolas Cage as Dracula in Renfield, directed by Chris McKay.

Renfield is entertaining enough but doesn’t leave much of a lasting impression. There’s a shocking amount of gore played for comedy and it’s difficult not to get caught up in the absurdity of it, making it good fodder for a pizza-grease stained group viewing. Ultimately, if it wasn’t for the comedic talent of the actors it would have slipped by unnoticed.

Rating: FIVE out of TEN