Sad sack Robert Montague Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) sits quietly in a New Orleans support group for people in toxic co-dependent relationships.
Once a blood sucking lawyer himself, 90 years ago Renfield fell under the spell of the one and only Count Dracula (Nicolas Cage). Now a ‘familiar’ Renfield is tasked with doing his master’s dirty work, mostly supplying fresh victims, for eternity. As his master is rendered superhuman by eating people, Renfield gains his own power eating insects.
To counter his guilt over his day (and night) job, Renfield attempts to only serve up those most deserving of a fanging. It is in doing this Renfield unwittingly becomes entangled with Teddy Lobo (Ben Scwartz), The baby boy of mob Queen-pin, Bellafrancesca Lobo (Shohreh Aghdashloo). Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina) is one of few cops not on the Lobo’s payroll and is determined to bring them down to avenge her father who they killed long ago.
After a chance meeting, Renfield is inspired by Rebecca’s unwavering bravery. If she can face her demons then maybe he can too? But Renfield finds out Dracula isn’t a life partner easily walked out on!
Dracula is a story which has been reinvented to death. But to my knowledge in the 125 years since Bram Stoker‘s novel released, we’ve never had a story told primarily from the Renfield character’s perspective. Directed by Chris McKay, based on an idea by The Walking Dead co-creator Robert Kirkman, ‘Renfield’ promises a stylishly gory high concept comedy.
Right from the start, it is clear that this is a flick for vampire movie fans. With the introduction to characters and backstory hilariously told via repurposing of footage from Tod Browning’s 1931 Dracula film with stars Cage and Hoult superimposed into scenes replacing actors Bela Lugosi and Dwight Frye.
From there, it is an absolutely glorious bloodbath of an action comedy which never holds back. I didn’t expect this film to be something akin to a supernatural John Wick, but here we are. With Renfield butchering villains left and right in creative and exceedingly violent ways. The film’s effective old school special effects make-up meshes well with modern CGI blood splatter.
The film is as subtle as a sledgehammer and that’s perfectly fine. With jokes coming fast and loud from the principle characters. Hoult is charming as the well-meaning Renfield, trying to make a difference in his life. While Awkwafina works well within the film’s comedic scenes but often feels miscast as the action heroine with heavy editing and body doubles being used liberally (but still played straight) for the many action scenes she finds herself in.
But of course, it is Nicolas Cage’s characteristically bizarre performance as Dracula which steals the show. With the actor in full ham mode chewing up the scenery in the way only he can. A personal favourite scene sees Dracula confronting Renfield basically asking “Where’s my dinner!?”. Cage totally selling this absurd odd-couple twist on a domestic dispute.
Sadly, ‘Renfield’ as a story struggles somewhat in finding its footing. It is at its best when focused on the ridiculousness of the harmful co-dependent relationship between Dracula and Renfield. So, I must say I’m surprised by just how much of the movie focuses on things other than that. With large chunks of the film revolving around officer Rebecca Quincy and her vendetta against the Lobo crime family.
‘Renfield’ is one hell of a fun movie when it drops all pretence of seriousness and gives us what we want. Crazy over the top violence to match Nicolas Cage’s crazy over the top Prince of Darkness. While a stronger script may have given this film eternal life, there is still plenty for cinemagoers to sink their teeth into.