Directed by: Chris McKay
Distributed by: Universal
Written by Alexander Reams
“Renfield” is a modern-day Dracula story told from the perspective of his long-suffering assistant Renfield (originally performed by Dwight Frye in “Dracula” (1931)). A fresh take on the old Dracula movie has long been awaited, particularly since the fixation on vampires during the “Twilight” days, the iconic Bloodsucker has been relegated to poor retellings and attempted twists that either never make it to the screen or are DOA. “Renfield” has ambitions to be a new definition of Dracula, one based on comedy instead of horror, an idea that could have worked if given proper treatment. Replacing Frye is Nicholas Hoult as R.M. Renfield, playing him in a much more comedic tone, turning up the abuse suffered at the hands of Dracula, but playing it for laughs. This isn’t necessarily the death knell for “Renfield,” the idea was solid and this writer was very excited to see another comedic take after “Dracula: Dead and Loving It.”
When we catch up with our loving Dark Lord, he’s looks in need of a day at the spa. Cage is slathered in prosthetics for his first few appearances after an opening that seems plucked out of a “Hellboy” storyline. Ending with Cage engulfed in flames because of the usual “vampires and sunlight don’t mix well” trope. Leaving Hoult in charge as they relocate to New Orleans and begin finding their new sources of food. Dracula is completely obsessed with “growing to full power” and oblivious to the misgivings that Renfield is finally having, after being an accessory to death and destruction for 90 years. Yet “Renfield” is all about making him the victim, but it’s hard to see why. Yes, Dracula is a terrible boss, and he doesn’t care about Renfield, but everything the latter has done has been out of greed for himself. This lack of understanding of the base nature of these characters is another part of what puts “Renfield” in for the long dirt nap.
The death blow that comes in the script, Robert Kirkman crafted the story, but the script was penned by Ryan Ridley, and much like Renfield’s introduction, it’s rushed. Renfield has been serving the famous blood addict for centuries, and their dynamic has always been one that could be described as toxic, but its more a consequence of their actions. Renfield was tricked into servitude by trying to do a less-than-legally sound real estate agreement. This culminates with “Renfield” beginning a support group, a device that will be used pervasively throughout the remaining 90 minutes. Jumping between Renfield moaning about his relationship with his boss, whose scenes seem to want to be “Office Space.” Jokes hit the wall as frequently as the bodies do, and that’s where “Renfield” picks up. Aping the style of the “John Wick” franchise is the best creative decision it puts on display, which causes each sequence feel fresh due to Nicholas Hoult jumping between floors, ripping throats out, and the general visual carnage that’s the candy-coated entertainment necessary for a film that actively works against itself.
Joining Renfield on his journey of discovery is Awkwafina as Rebecca Quincy, his partner/ pseudo-romantic interest. Her character is built on every trope in a corrupt cop movie ever, she yells, she gets in trouble, she fights vampires, all the usual aspects of those films. Her chemistry with Hoult is fine, but it’s shallow, attempts at emotional development are undermined, but eventually pays off in the one bit from “Renfield” that is not only memorable, but visually haunting in all the right ways. “Renfield” is an unfortunate waste of Nicholas Cage doing a truly great performance of “Dracula.” A role that the actor has been vocal about wanting to perform, and it’s another notch in his cap of great performances and will continue the Cage-aissance despite its overall lack of quality. Chris McKay makes the film visually exciting during fight sequences, taking full use of the exaggerated nature of Hoult’s abilities but there’s nothing to remember “Renfield” by, besides it being this year’s entry of strange studio movie released in April that stars Nicolas Cage.