Renfield (2023) – Reel Review

Longing for life away from his toxic master, Renfield forms a bond with a local police officer to take down a crime family – much to the dismay of his boss, Dracula. 

As one of horror culture’s most iconic figures Dracula has been interpreted, parodied and rehashed many times over. Chris McKay’s distinctly comedic approach is nothing new, but what Renfield does attempt is to bring famous characters into a contemporary setting while offering enough blood and guts to last a lifetime. While it’s a bold approach to attempt a blend of gothic horror and comedy/action, the two rarely feel cohesive.

The standout in Renfield is by far Nicolas Cage’s performance as Dracula, channelling the very spirit of Bela Lugosi and adding some of his signature weirdness.

Instead of focusing on Dracula, the film’s central character is Renfield. Played by Nicholas Hoult as a timid and insecure gentlemanly-type, Renfield struggles with the morality of delivering bodies to his boss and, after sitting in a support group scouting his next victims, comes to terms with the reality of their codependent relationship. The parodic nature of the relationship offers a lot of humour and actually sets up the tone of the film effortlessly, but it’s in the surrounding plot that the film can’t quite figure out its voice. 

Renfield’s quest of self-love and redemption becomes knotted in the story of a local police officer’s search for justice. Awkwafina offers a lot of likeability to the role of Rebecca, but the arc of avenging her father against a local crime family never feels like anything new. Although Renfield delivers on its promise of wild action and humour the actual crime element of its narrative is completely void of anything substantial – offering moments of fun but never blending with the legendary character of Dracula and Renfield. 

The standout in Renfield is by far Nicolas Cage’s performance as Dracula, channelling the very spirit of Bela Lugosi and adding some of his signature weirdness. Cage seems to have had a resurgence of late due to people really latching on to his wild performances (mostly because he plays himself), but with his limited screen time he makes absolutely sure he’s not forgotten. Hoult adds charm to his role, Awkwafina is a sturdy presence, but watching Cage plunge his fangs into the fat of every scene is the real highlight of a film that is often lacklustre.

The film seems to pride itself on its approach to action, turning up the red and really indulging the bloodier parts of its story. Renfield, aside from performing his master’s duties, is able to give himself superhuman powers by eating insects. It allows the action to play out in gory fashion – in fact one scene sees him impale a goon with his own arms – adding a little flare and fun to match the slew of other R-rated action/comedies we’ve seen over the past few years. 

There will definitely be an audience for this uber-violent spin on Bram Stoker’s classic characters. The action is exciting and Cage as Dracula is everything you could imagine. But, what should have been an iconic marriage of classic horror and modern action-comedy feels more like a film of two parts – leaving it as a tonal mess.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

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