‘Renfield’: Film Review- DC’s Take

 With Universal Pictures coming out with a string of movies around a surreal concept over the last few months, it was nice to see them change things regarding their monsters. However, when you look at Renfield, the latest horror comedy from director Chris McKay (The Lego Batman MovieThe Tomorrow War), it looked as if it wasn’t trying to be serious as the other attempts to bring their classic creature back, especially when we look at The Mummy and Dracula Untold as prime examples of what not to do. I’ll admit that the initial excitement from the trailers didn’t convince me to watch. This may be one of those instances where the actual movie is superior to what was displayed. True. Renfield, despite having the potential to be better, is amusing enough to last the full 93 minutes, even though many people won’t remember it as one of the funniest movies of the year.

What’s the Story: In the 20th century, the infamous Transylvanian vampire Count Dracula (Nicolas Cage) meets lawyer Robert Montague Renfield (Nicholas Hoult), quickly becoming his familiar, a servant willing to do everything he commands. Now 90 years later, Renfield is still serving his boss while lying low in an abandoned hospital in New Orleans until Dracula regains his full strength. But Renfield’s at the point of his long life where he doesn’t want to feel trapped in this relationship, especially when he’s feeding innocent people to him. He’s able to discover this 12-step self-help group for those currently in the same situation and needs to get their own life without involving conflict with a man who’s in his head.

When I heard about this, would I pay $15 to see Nicolas Cage play a narcissistic Dracula? Short answer: Duh. If there was one actor who would be the perfect choice for a famous vampire, who other than Cage? That’s a casting choice I love right off the bat, and he’s basically the reason to see it. He delivers an excellent performance that you can already imagine will be campy and that’s fine by all accounts. Clearly, and to no one’s surprise, Cage has a great time when he’s allowed to make this take on Count Dracula funny yet frightening at the same time while channeling Bela Lugosi. It’s not a role that’ll work for everybody, but this is right in line with the other crazy role under his filmography since he was born to play this character, making him a great villain. When he’s under some practical makeup effects and wearing the fangs in the first half, I had a hard time believing it was him in a good way. I frequently thought about him in the ‘80s guilty pleasure/ cult classic Vampire’s Kiss if he actually was a vampire and didn’t recite the alphabet angrily. Unfortunately, he plays a supporting role, and I wish they had given him more time.

But that doesn’t mean Nicholas Hoult shouldn’t be forgotten since his performance as the titular character Renfield is one of the finest actors I enjoy seeing after proving he can tackle any genre in front of him. Compelling to a fault, he reminded me very much so his character in the underrated rom-com Warm Bodies from ten years ago, where you really empathize or someone who longs for a glimmer of happiness in their life, not being a servant to someone who probably doesn’t care for his feelings. Once he understood the victims of their own struggles within this support group when they tell their similar stories, why shouldn’t he be allowed to do the same? The two of them, who previously worked together in The Weather Man, played off each other well when they shared scenes. One of the best scenes I wasn’t expecting had to do with a conversation in Renfield’s studio apartment and Dracula practically gaslighting Renfield into thinking he betrayed him.

From what we’ve seen in McKay’s previous movies, it’s clear he has a sense of style, whether it’s being cartoony or action-packed when balancing some aspects of action, horror, and comedy into a weird time without it taking itself seriously while carrying on this theme of what it means to be in a relationship or being co-dependent that isn’t going well as one hoped for. Renfield isn’t afraid to touch on this message one wouldn’t expect for a movie like this, and I didn’t think that when I first heard of this project, and it does a decent job exploring these two more closely. We’re seeing the shift in perspective to Renfield himself in this modern setting. This is someone who doesn’t want to see his boss feeding off innocent lives and must take back his life without getting hurt. Most of us probably never paid attention to him when alongside Dracula from Bram Stoker’s work, but when looked closer for an examination of viewing a toxic relationship in a world where Dracula exists, it’s strange to viewed as a commentary on how people perceive their own unhealthy relationships.

I didn’t get into all the jokes, especially in the first half when attempting to determine the overall tone. However, Cage’s random reactions and good use of the rule of three involving a cop made for some well-deserved chuckles. It was never supposed to be frightening, even for a horror endeavor, because the entire thing was designed to be funny. But despite delivering what it promised, what made Renfield more of a mixed bag than clever was Ryan Ridley’s (Rick & MortyCommunity) script with the story by The Walking Dead and Invincible creator Robert Kirkman. It was almost like this was based on a graphic novel or an idea for a new series, but you sense something was missing to make it more appealing or not fleshed out as I wanted it to be. Instead, you don’t necessarily care about the subplot of Awkwafina’s arc of finally taking down this Lobo crime family, Bella (Shohreh Aghdashloo) and her idiot son Teddy (Ben Schwartz), to avenge her late dad when most of the attention should’ve been directed on Renfield and Dracula. That could’ve easily been removed to settle on the tone. And even though I like Awkwafina, I thought her character, Rebecca, was undeveloped because there wasn’t much more to her than the fact that she was the only uncorrupted cop on the force. Nevertheless, she does a good job here and I am aware of the realistic performance she is giving. There wasn’t much romantic chemistry between her and Hoult either, even when the two worked off each other well enough. I’m still questioning if there was supposed to be romantic towards each other after all this.

I won’t say McKay’s direction of the action works due to some choppy editing in a few of the choreographed fight sequences and it doesn’t allow for much-needed emotional moments to hammer out the point. And this is, without question, an R-rated film that doesn’t skimp on the gore. Most of them come from Renfield when he gets superpower strength from consuming bugs and taking down anyone terrible. It sure isn’t a surprise for a vampire movie to involve blood once in a while, but there’s a shit ton of CGI blood and gore here where it’s shocking when a head gets popped off a body, but it becomes over-the-top quickly to where I don’t think it’s not humanly possible for someone who spills that much blood from their body. At one point, a face gets ripped off. Even Quentin Tarantino is telling this to tone it down. There were also two-needle drops of songs I love during two separate montages, except the latter was too quick.

Although the script could’ve used more bite, I can perceive Renfield as a passably amusing, if flawed, vampire comedy that (for the most part) doesn’t take itself too seriously. Nicholas Hoult is charming as the titular character, while Nicolas Cage as Count Dracula is absolutely perfect. I can see this is one where some will have fun while others won’t. I’ll likely forget about this in the next few weeks, yet it’s worth going for a matinee for the two central performances alone.

Grade: [B-]

Renfield is now playing in theaters nationwide| Runtime: 93 Minutes| Rated R for bloody violence, some gore, language throughout and some drug use| Studio: Universal Pictures

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