Dracula’s lackey finally gets his time to shine in his comedic origin story. It’s an action comedy a la Jackie Chan movie but with a heavy Tarantino-bent in terms of its gory violence. I expected blood will be spilled in an R-rated movie involving Dracula and indeed there’s SO. MUCH. BLOOD. in this movie!
As the title suggests, the focus of the movie is on his loyal servant who’s been serving him for centuries. In the movie’s brief exposition, we saw Robert Montesquieu Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) as a young lawyer wishing to broker a deal with the count but ending up as his bug-eating servant. As someone unfamiliar with the Dracula lore, I wasn’t sure if Renfield’s bug-powered supernatural strength was given from Dracula or something else, and the movie never really explained it either.
What’s clear is that after centuries of being in a toxic, co-dependent relationship, Renfield wants out. He even joined a 12-step codependent anonymous program where members share their own struggles to kick out the ‘monster’ in their lives. Renfield has an ulterior motive for joining the group though, but his plan to obtain ‘food’ for his master puts him on the path of the Lobos, a notorious crime family.
There’s a killer premise here, but writers Ryan Ridley and Robert Kirkman and director Chris McKay didn’t quite mine that to its full potential. Instead, we get an underwhelming subplot involving a second-generation cop Rebecca (Awkwafina) who’s been after the Lobos for years to no avail as the entire police department are on their payroll. The bits where Renfield has a crush on Rebecca are amusing and the scenes with the codependent group provide a few laughs, but overall McKay is far more interested in staging one absurdly bloody action sequence after another than a compelling story. The vampire mythology parts of the story, such as the healing power of Dracula’s blood, could’ve been explored a bit better instead of being used only as a ‘convenient’ plot device that exemplifies its sloppy writing.
I expected a droll fish-out-of-water comedy as centuries-old Renfield is now living in a modern world. There could’ve been opportunities to make Renfield a viral sensation when he’s caught displaying his supernatural fighting abilities. When he gets an apartment and tries to live like normal folks, he ditches his retro suits and buys a colorful sweater from Macy’s. It would’ve been funny to see him going shopping at a mall and being confronted by the way today’s society operates compared to centuries ago.
One of the best vampire comedies of modern times is Taika Waititi’s What We Do In The Shadows and the funniest bits are when these hundreds-year-old vamps try to adjust to modern life and its idiosyncrasies. Now THAT is how you do a comedic twist on a horror classic, making these vampires actually relatable AND funny!
The main appeal of RENFIELD for me is definitely Nicolas Cage as Count Dracula. Apparently, Cage has always wanted to play the Transylvanian vampire, citing Christopher Lee in those classic Hammer films as one of his acting influences, hence he truly relished the chance of playing one. He went full-on deranged sociopath mode as only Cage could. Think Face/Off’s Castor Troy if he were to graduate to become the Prince of Darkness. Meanwhile, Hoult proves he can tackle comedy. I haven’t seen The Great but even from the trailer and reading reviews of the Hulu series, he’s a pretty versatile actor. He’s no stranger to the horror-comedy genre either, he’s terrific in the zombie-horror rom-com Warm Bodies.
Renfield is a sympathetic character and he’s got a pretty good rapport with Awkwafina who’s sadly relegated to portraying such a boring character. It seems Hollywood just doesn’t know what to do with her talents as she’s only been memorable in The Farewell and Crazy Rich Asians so far. I love the casting of Shohreh Aghdashloo as the head of the Lobos family, Bellafrancesca, but she’s criminally underused here while Ben Schwartz is so over the top as her annoyingly smug son. The meeting between Dracula and Bellafrancesca seems to hint at something more but it goes nowhere. The movie is a brisk 93 minutes long but I’d be fine with a longer running time if the story has more bite.
For fans of Nic Cage, this movie is still well worth a watch as Count Dracula even though he’s not the main character. I just wish the movie deserved his and Hoult’s committed performances. Overall I was left wanting more as the filmmakers squander so many opportunities to make RENFIELD a horror-comedy classic.
Have you seen RENFIELD? What did you think?
6 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: RENFIELD (2023) – Nic Cage is fun to watch as Dracula despite missed opportunities to mine the killer premise”
I saw a trailer of this movie a while back, looked interesting but it’s not something I’d rush out to see in theater. Maybe when it hits streaming, I’ll give it a watch.
It’s still fun to watch for the two leads. It’s not bad per se, just wish it could’ve been better as the premise is so juicy!
I’ll wait for it on a streaming service near me though Nic Cage as Dracula is just perfect as he just understands the role better than anyone.
He is absolutely perfect as Dracula! Clearly he LOVEs playing that character and apparently it’s been his long dream to play the Prince of Darkness as he’s a huge fan of Christopher Lee in those Hammer films.
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