Renfield is playing in cinemas nationwide from Friday 14th April.
Renfield is as chaotically fun as a Nicolas Cage vampire movie sounds. Based on characters from Bram Stoker’s original novel, our focus is not Dracula, who is delightfully played by Cage, but Dracula’s assistant Renfield (Nicholas Hoult). Having recently relocated himself and Dracula to New Orleans, Renfield is starting to regret his life choices as a lackey to the prince of darkness. During his stay, he meets police officer Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina), who is investigating a city mob, and Renfield falls in love. At this point, the film becomes a whirlwind of cop drama, romance and horror comedy, all against the backdrop of Nicolas Cage sucking people’s blood.
The movie doesn’t really need an introduction. If the thought of Nicolas Cage going full ham in his portrayal of one of the most recognisable horror figures of all time sounds like your idea of fun, Renfield will deliver. It’s clearly very fond of the many points of source material, from Stoker’s work to the Universal Monster era and Hammer Horror. Yet, by setting it in a modern urban area like New Orleans, the film suitably sets itself up for an interesting commentary and amusing gags.
As a comedy, the film works because the humour comes from the character dynamics and the playful teasing of a range of Dracula trademarks. One of the funniest moments is a visual joke involving Renfield’s welcome mat, which causes a loophole in the vampiric condition of being invited in. However, the film fundamentally recognises that complete servitude and the codependency that comes with that is unhealthy. The jokes are not at the expense of this but rather at the lengths, some will go to in maintaining this faux sense of security. As the characters react with bafflement to each other’s circumstances, we laugh with them, creating an ironically warm feeling despite the death and blood-letting surrounding us.
Awkwafina as Rebecca in Renfield, directed by Chris McKay.
Through characterisation and comedy, the film’s themes become apparent. This is a movie that, on top of having fun with itself, is about individuality and redemption. Renfield’s past plays a crucial role in fueling his despair and, ultimately, challenging him to reconsider the person he wants to be. Through the therapy sessions, he attends, we gain insight into the narcissism that forms a character as famous as Dracula. It’s part of the reason we love great villains, but it creates an interesting observation of the things and relationships people latch on to in order to survive the storm of life.
While never poorly written, the story is a tad cluttered with Renfield, Rebecca, Dracula and a mob plot to juggle, and that’s without the potential side plot within the police force itself. The film primarily focuses on Renfield, as it should, but this does mean that Cage’s scenery chewing is occasionally relegated to the background. As Cage was central to the marketing drive, this could result in a feeling of slight disappointment. Furthermore, as intriguing as its observations on codependency are, the film separates Renfield and Dracula for big chunks at a time, meaning its themes are not always pushed to the front of the picture.
Nicholas Hoult as Renfield in Renfield, directed by Chris McKay.
However, you will undoubtedly, feel satisfied if you are here purely for entertainment or an enjoyable horror comedy. The gore and violence are cartoonish, which benefits the tone, while the prosthetics are remarkable. The makeup on display is one of the film’s strongest attributes, while its fast editing and lively music keep up a real sense of kinetic energy. But it’s Cage who completely steals every scene he’s in. Hoult and Awkwafina are funny, too, but they keep the film grounded when it wishes to explore its characterisation or themes. The rest of the time, Cage is utterly unhinged with a performance that borders on hyperbole. While Cage is not utilised as much as he could have been, he still single-handedly makes the film worthy of a trip to the cinema.
Add it all up, and you get a horror comedy that’s fun and deeper than you might imagine. While nothing spectacular, Renfield holds a lot of affection for its source material and is playful enough with its roots that it comfortably stands on its own two feet. Funny, well-crafted, and deliciously entertaining, Renfield isn’t short of bite.
BOYS FROM COUNTY HELL
Renfield | United States | 1hr 33min | 2023
While nothing spectacular, Renfield holds a lot of affection for its source material and is playful enough with its roots that it comfortably stands on its own two feet. Funny, well-crafted, and deliciously entertaining, Renfield isn’t short of bite.