‘Renfield’ Review – Bite, Suck, Not Laugh, Repeat

(from left) Dracula (Nicolas Cage) and Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) in Renfield, directed by Chris McKay.

After serving Dracula (Nicolas Cage) for decades, Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) is having a bit of an identity crisis. He’s done nothing but tend to Dracula’s needs ever since he became his familiar and hasn’t thought about himself or his desires since he doesn’t know when. After seeing a local police officer named Rebecca (Awkwafina) stand up to a crime family thug named Tedward Lobo (Ben Schwartz), Renfield wants to start empathizing with people rather than just feed them to the dark lord.

Dracula (Nicolas Cage) and Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) in Chris McKay’s Renfield.

Renfield is directed by Chris McKay (The Lego Batman Movie, The Tomorrow War) and written by Ryan Ridley (Rick and Morty) and Robert Kirkman (Invincible, The Walking Dead). The supernatural horror comedy seems to be lacking in the comedy department. Renfield spends a ton of time on the toxic relationship between Renfield and Dracula.

Renfield can mostly be found at a support group for abusive relationships and plays the victim whenever he brings up how he got into the position he’s in. This isn’t an argument saying that he’s wrong, but it feels like a one-off joke stretched into something serious that ultimately sours the humor of the film.

However, both Nicholas Hoult and Nicolas Cage bring their A-game. Hoult’s demeanor as Renfield is of someone who has been stuck for a very long time and is utterly defeated in his day to day life. He kills people regularly, whether in self-defense or as a possible offering, but has this desire to help people even if it means he isn’t the hero. Hoult has always had a way of molding a timid awkwardness and overwhelmingly politeness into something charming and Renfield is exactly that when blood isn’t gushing everywhere.

Nicolas Cage as Dracula in Chris McKay’s Renfield.

But Nicolas Cage is clearly treating this as the role he was meant to play his entire career. He somehow rolls terror and comedy into this vengeful bloodsucking demon that you absolutely adore. Cage is the best part of Renfield.

His performance teeters somewhere between Christopher Lee’s portrayal in Hammer films and Max Schreck as Count Orlok in Nosferatu. His moments in the first half of the film, where his body is rejuvenating, are when he’s absolutely on fire (figuratively and literally). The scene in Renfield’s pastel heavy studio apartment is also extraordinary.

Cage’s outrageous mannerisms and over the top line delivery result in Dracula being funny in an intimidating yet eccentric kind of way.

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

The blood in the film is unbelievable due to the fact that everyone seems to explode like a pack of strawberry Gushers.

There are some decapitations and arms being ripped off that are then used as weapons before being repurposed yet again as a javelin to impale somebody else, but most of the time people just kind of gush into this bloody mess whenever Renfield fights.

Nicholas Hoult as Renfield in Chris McKay’s horror comedy of the same name.

Director Chris McKay has stated that Renfield is actually meant as a direct sequel to Tod Browning’s Dracula film from 1931. There’s actually a flashback in the film in black and white showing how Renfield became Dracula’s familiar that is loaded with the style and visual gags, like only Dracula’s eyes having light on them in close ups, Browning’s film is known for.

It’s an homage that’s one of the cooler aspects of the film.

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

Despite this, the film gets stuck in this bite, suck, repeat kind of formula about halfway through. The charm of profanity infused dialogue that is constantly regurgitated at a spitfire pace gets tiresome and the ludicrous amount of blood evolves into a repetitious mess.

Renfield feels like it doesn’t properly progress in terms of story and visuals, but rather goes for the jugular in the same, predictable way for an hour and a half. The humor grows stale and sharp fangs become dulled for what is otherwise a disappointing excursion into horror comedy.

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

The Verdict

Renfield is an okay horror comedy. It has a ton of potential with its excessive amount of blood and Nicolas Cage is worth the price of admission alone. The action sequences have all of their entertainment value sucked away by the end of the film; mostly because they all feel so similar. The humor and story reach a brick wall that the filmmakers refuse to stop pounding your face into.

Renfield is like the junk food version of a horror comedy. It has all the right ingredients for something that should be fantastic, but its recipe for action, comedy, and satisfying storytelling is imbalanced to the point of near disgust.

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