There is always a joy of uncertainty in casting a new actor to play an established role, especially one such as Dracula.
Bela Lugosi is credited with the definitive version. Christopher Lee brought the terror. Gary Oldman’s take covered most angles you could think of.
In Renfield, where Dracula’s famous familiar tries to break free of his bloodsucking master’s influence, the mesmerising approach of Nicolas Cage (never an actor to shirk the chance to over commit) is a huge draw. More on him later.
What Is Renfield About?
The central conceit of the movie is that after 90 years of servitude, familiar Renfield is starting to realise that perhaps his master is a touch on the manipulative side.
After Dracula’s reckless actions leads him to once again be almost destroyed, Renfield once again relocates him (to New Orleans) and slowly nourishes him back to life by kidnapping victims to feed to the Lord of Darkness.
Pondering his predicament, Renfield discovers a self-help group for people in codependent abusive relationships.
Thus his long established character is reframed as one who needs to battle to break free of his gaslighting (and straight-up lighting) master.
Almost, but not quite, overshadowed by the headline casting, is one of the most consistently underused actors in Hollywood: Nicholas Hoult.
Hoult’s befuddled charm works wonders as he comes to the realisation that he matters.
His performance here recalls his excellent turn as a zombie regaining consciousness in Warm Bodies, and considering Cage is used economically throughout, it is Hoult’s shy charisma that carries the great concept of Renfield over the more pedestrian beats it has to hit.
Wedded to all of the above is a rather hackneyed plotline involving gangsters (mean matriarch Shohreh Aghdashloo and stroppy Ben Schwartz) and police (Awkwafina frowning her way through a hodgepodge of mandatory quasi-romantic scenes) which do little except provide the fodder for when things get rather bloody.
Renfield Official Trailer
Is Renfield Worth Watching?
This comic horror is horror only in history and comic in a very Buffy The Vampire Slayer cheekiness.
Renfield’s famous ‘bug eating’ habits are shown here to actually grant him a sliver of Dracula’s power, i.e. super speed and strength.
Hence when fighting off gangsters and corrupt cops Renfield – to paraphrase Dave Lister in Red Dwarf – has no qualms about ripping off arms to beat people to death with the wet end.
Such OTT gory fights are undoubtedly fun and full of comically timed wince worthy splatter. If you are chucking popcorn at your face then the fights scenes in the latter half of the movie will undoubtedly get you munching and cackling.
Back to Cage then. Perhaps afraid that his overarching sneer would take over if given too much rope, Renfield keeps him hidden in the back pocket so that he can be doled out in small doses. Cage is undoubtedly having an enormous about of fun and he shines in every scene he is in.
He lurches from ‘I vant to suck you blud!’ kookiness, ancient powerful monster energy, and – yes – abusive partner presence.
Had Renfield drilled down more on this brilliant take on its central duo (like Victor Frankenstein did with Frankenstein and Igor) then we may have gotten some half decent emotional stakes on which to impale ourselves.
As it is, we get great actors giving great performances among a fairly standard action comedy framing.
Much like the character Renfield’s own realisation, wasted potential is a crying shame.
Regardless, what we get is a fun if janky movie that Cage and Hoult lift to the point of having a perfectly nice time spent with a film.
Now excuse me, I have some affirmations to go through.
Words by Mike Record
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