I was initially ecstatic when I first heard about Nicolas Cage starring in Renfield. As a fan of 1931’s Dracula, I thought he could make an absolutely stellar Renfield. Being inspired by Dwight Frye’s unhinged performance could have made for one of my favorite things ever put to film. However, once I saw the first trailer for Chris McKay’s movie, I hoped this would be a wildly fun time at the movies despite having to shift my expectations. I’m pleased to report it definitely is.
Set in current times, Renfield follows the titular character as he sets out to find a suitable place for he and his master to make home that’s convenient for his benefactor’s…unique dietary needs. As Renfield has had a front row seat to the advances global society has made, he becomes more and more aware of just how toxic his relationship is with the dark lord. As he tries to escape what is probably the most unique portrayal of a codependant relationship I’ve seen in recent memory, his controlling an domineering master does what he must to keep his most loyal servant’s knee bowed.
The message behind the film is beyond heavy handed, but the performances absolutey keep the film afloat. The grace and charm that Nicholous Hoult brings to Renfield is genuine and irresistable. He has to walk a fine line between two worlds while not fully fitting in to either of them and he makes it look effortless. I’ve been a fan of the range Hoult regularly displays ever since another genre bender in Warm Bodies, and I love seeing him get back to those roots.
Awkwafina as a cop trying to live up to the example her deceased father set is heartbreaking while keeping her sarcastic sense of humor beautifully intact. Her interactions with Hoult’s Renfield are nothing short of charming.
When we look at the villains, we end up with two actors absolutely feasting on the scenery in positively delightful ways. Ben Schwartz gets some of the best laughs in the film as Tedward Lobo, the screwup son of vicious crime boss. The way his arc moves from a complete loser of a tool to a completely arrogant loser of a tool is grating in the best possible way.
Cage’s take on the Dracula character is obviously how he would play the prince of darkness, but I was still pleasantly surprised. He’s clearly inspired by Bela Lugosi (more on that later), but brings his own quirk and imagination to the character. He never breaks from the menace required in Dracula no matter how silly things may get around him, and this is crucial for the story the filmmakers are trying to tell.
Having seen Robert Kirkman give interviews around projects outside The Walking Dead, it makes total sense that he was involved in writing this film. Along with cowriter Ryan Ridley, the film has true affection for the original film. I was speaking with a friend about my initial expectations right before the film, and I practically bounced in my seat with glee when I saw these actors digitally inserted into the 1931 film. It’s obvious that Cage is having the time of his life recreating arguably the greatest Universal monster movie. While focused on giving the audience a bloody good time, it’s clear there’s a love and admiration for the original film on display. It’s also REALLY bloody. There’s quite a bit of CG blood on display, but I wonder if that was to keep the film in R-rated territory.
The film has a wicked sense of humor that pops up from every corner you can think of. Using torn-off limbs as weapons, fountains of blood spurting from every part of the body and even the darkest moments of morbidity and abusive relationships elicit laughs continually.
Look, I wasn’t expecting Renfield to be a gigantic allegory for abusive relationships that has the subtlety of a sledghammer to the thumb. I was expecting a bloody good time and Renfield delivers in every way I could ask for. It’s also a film about empowering a victim to stand up against their abuser that is displayed in several relationships in the film. It’s completely understandable if that’s too much for you, but I found it to be a worthy attempt at using the tropes around horror and comedy to actually have something to say.