Renfield Review

We have a bloody good time with Renfield, starring Nicholas Hoult and Nicolas Cage as an iconic Count Dracula.

PLOT: Dracula’s long-suffering familiar Renfield, played by Nicholas Hoult, has finally started to acknowledge the toxic relationship that he has been in for over a hundred years. One day he meets Traffic Officer Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina), who inspires him to finally stand up to the lord of the vampires, Dracula (Nicolas Cage). 

REVIEW: Renfield is director Chris McKay’s (The Tomorrow War) blatant love letter to Dracula, with it even going so far as to recreate parts of the Universal Monsters black and white classic. It’s pretty amusing seeing Cage dressed up like Bela Lugosi in the iconic 1931 black and white horror film, with Hoult channeling Dwight Frye.

The film is a black comedy but with a surprisingly strong message about abusive relationships. Hoult plays Renfield as the victim of the ultimate narcissist, Dracula. Sure, you have your classic Dracula lines like “Renfield, come to your dark lord” but then you have Renfield saying power statements toward the lord of the vampires like “I deserve happiness”, “I am taking back my power”,  and “I do not deserve to be treated this way”. It’s a funny scene as he says this to Dracula by reading from a self-help book as if it he was warding him off with a bible. 

This is not Nicholas Hoult’s first time playing a supernatural creature. He starred in one of my favorite movies, the zombie romantic comedy Warm Bodies. I can see why Hoult was attracted to the role, since it is yet another unique take on the horror film genre. He plays Renfield as a beaten-down man who has given into despair, believing that he will never have happiness in his life again. He is so good at eliciting empathy from the audience. Which is why it’s so weird when you think about it because Renfield has been providing innocent people for Dracula to murder for over a hundred years. Sure, he tries to bring him people he thinks deserve to die, like the abusive partners from his support group, criminals, and worst of all ska fans. But, it’s not enough for the prince of darkness. He gains no real sustenance from the blood of the corrupt, only those of the innocent. There’s a great joke between Cage and Hoult that revolves around Dracula asking for a busload of cheerleaders. Only for him to say defensively that it’s not sexual.

Awkwafina lends her usual comedic timing as traffic Officer Rebeca Quincy. Rebecca is a police officer who has never risen past her low status on the force. Her father was known as the most honest cop in the city who was tragically murdered. Her backstory is a bit of a cliché but, she yet again turns the mundane into gold. 

My only issue I had with her role was that even though she is set up as the romance lead with Hoult, it never pays off. It’s almost as if the filmmakers lost faith in her having a romantic subplot. So, she was relegated to a buddy rather than a romantic partner. Which is a shame, because she and Hoult have excellent chemistry. They play off each other with some witty dialogue that makes me wonder how much was of it written and how much of it was improvised. 

Awkwafina has range but it’s just not taken advantage of. This is a real shame because I think she could surprise many people if just given the chance to spread her wings (for a good example – check out her earlier film, The Farewell). 

Jean Ralphio (Parks and Rec!) himself, Ben Schwartz plays the sniveling Teddy Lobo, who is the heir to the Lobo crime empire. However, even though I love the roles Schwartz plays, he has begun to become pigeonholed into playing egotistical idiot characters. 

The comedy in the film is great. The black humor is on full display, as you have funny lines and mixed in with a generous helping of gore. This is a tribute to the classic 1970’s Hammer horror films. There are exploding heads, maimings, and even seeing someone’s face be ripped off. If you don’t like over-the-top gore then I would not recommend this movie (chances are, if you’re reading this, you do).

The fight choreography deserves a standing ovation. It’s well-lit, coherent, and creative. I am glad that gone are the days of shaky cam action scenes. To say that the fight scenes are creative is an understatement. There are scenes where bad guys get their arms chopped off only to be used as nunchucks. People’s spines are crushed, heads explode, and John Wick style gun fights. Sure there is CGI for certain kill shots, but for the most part, they’re practical fight scenes with clever camera work.

So let’s talk about the elephant in the room, Nick “Mother Freaking” Cage! Cage has been a Dracula fan from the start of his career. He cites one of his early films, the bizarre cult classic Vampire’s Kiss as a favorite. He also produced the Oscar nominated film Shadow of the Vampire that starred William Dafoe and John Malkovich. To cast Cage as Dracula the lord of the vampires, was brilliant! If it wasn’t for him, the film would have still been good but, just not as much of a must-see. It’s as if he was born to play this role. He oozes this darkness that leaves you unnerved with the way he walks and looks at you. Also his teeth, ugh, I think I’ll have nightmares for days. Yes, he does make his extreme faces just like in Vampire’s Kiss but, sadly he does not recite the alphabet

But, I think the most impressive aspect of his performance was portraying Dracula’s narcissism. Remember the scene with Nicholas Hoult I was talking about before? Cage’s dialogue has that double meaning of a narcissist gaslighting his victim. He recites the line from the abusive partner playbook. He plays the victim, he blames Renfield for his mistakes, and tells him that he will never be happy being away from him.

Nicolas Cage also contributes some classic Cage mannerisms to the film. With a few small yelps and the intense stares that he is known for. But, he pours the fanboy love for the father of all vampires in this film. Honestly, you should see this film just for his performance alone. 

The film has a quick pace and I think it only dragged when it got closer to the climax of the movie. There’s also a line about Renfield’s family that is not followed up on. It would have been great if that would have been fleshed out. But that’s me nitpicking.

Even though I do recommend this film, I still think that it won’t exactly break the box office. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that it’s not good. Quite frankly, it’s a fun film to go see with your friends and I think it will be a cult classic. But, I just don’t see it playing well with a larger audience considering how fickle moviegoers have been lately. But, I can see this being shown at Halloween events for years to come. 

The new episode of Modern Horror Movie Talk digs into the Dracula horror comedy Renfield, starring Nicholas Hoult and Nicolas Cage


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