Renfield (2023)
Renfield (2023)

Genre: Horror Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 33 min.

Release Date: April 14th, 2023 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Chris McKay Actors: Nicholas Hoult, Nicolas Cage, Awkwafina, Ben Schwartz, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Camille Chen, Adrian Martinez, Jenna Kanell, Bess Rous

 


 

“T

he only person who can save us is ourselves.” Robert Montague Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) finds himself at a dependent-relationship anonymous group hosted in a New Orleans church, pondering the ways in which he can take control in a particularly destructive companionship. He was once a young real estate lawyer, with a wife and daughter, but after a fateful meeting with Count Dracula (Nicolas Cage, periodically resembling Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee when they took the role), Renfield is seduced then reduced to a familiar – an undying servant – tasked with bringing his master pure-blooded human victims. Over the decades, he’s also forced to clean up after Dracula’s blood-soaked benders, relocate their home (and the vampire’s coffin), and set things up for the cycle to begin again. And he’s finally had enough of catering to his egocentric leader’s every whim (Dracula is the quintessential horrible boss).

“I am your only salvation. I am your only friend.” Renfield is a bit clumsy, which lends to some slapstick in this cartoonishly funny venture. With a certain degree of superpowers granted via insect ingestion, the lackey engages in martial arts fighting as well, during which his kicks and punches do considerable damage. With this exaggerated style, the film is also tremendously violent, though it achieves that rare balance of the right amount of humor to level out the bloodshed. Every time that limbs are yanked from torsos or heads are ripped from necks, there’s an obvious helping of insincerity to offset just how gruesome the visuals become. And those makeup effects are spectacular, particularly when Dracula starts off as a husk of his former self, requiring fresh bodies to steadily regain his power (and flesh, like in 1999’s “The Mummy”). CG sequences are less impressive, but the organ-splattering extravagance usually wins out.

Though the story is amusing, skewing the classic Bram Stoker tale to focus on an oft-overlooked toady rather than the titular monster, the twisted standards are only a small part of the entertainment value. Ultimately, it’s Nicolas Cage fully embracing his expertise in eccentricity that makes much of “Renfield” so enjoyable; at this stage in his career, Cage is perfect in such a hilariously oddball persona, not least with his excessive mugging and fumbling over lines as his prosthetic teeth get in the way of intelligible deliveries. The greater the weirdness that he can contribute to the bloodsucker, the better the character gets; Cage is clearly adept at playing loons.

“Did I just watch you cut a guy’s arms off with a decorative serving platter?” A lot more goes on in the background as Cage chews up the scenery, including a crime syndicate hunting down the slayer of their assassin, a failed police officer (Awkwafina) struggling with familial losses and craving revenge, an FBI investigation, bureaucratic corruption, a love story, and a quest for inner heroism (essentially a parable of how best to handle a colleague with the timely narcissistic personality disorder). Yet few of these concepts can contend with the excessively over-the-top bodily destruction and action-packed showdowns, which thankfully arrive fairly frequently and with minimal dawdling. The pacing is nevertheless off in a couple of spots, but the attention to humorously horrific carnage remains front and center. Its mix of gore and goofiness is good enough to conceal moments of missed potential (primarily with the villains who eventually align with the Prince of Darkness, as well as with their outcomes), resulting in a moderately creative, undoubtedly frivolous, generally engaging horror-comedy hybrid.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10