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Film Review: ‘Renfield’ Offers Up Nicolas Cage’s Hilarious Dracula Alongside Less Appealing Elements

Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

Remember the Dark Universe? While Universal quickly abandoned plans for their classic movie monsters to have their own shared cinematic universe, there remains plans to continue toying with their properties. When Renfield was announced, it initially seemed like an odd choice. However, when it was revealed to be more of a comedy, a lot of potential reared its head. Sadly, while the film has plenty to enjoy, it’s also not quite fully developed, leading to a sense of disappointment and even frustration.

Renfield is so close to being a movie I can wholeheartedly recommend. One of its two focuses is delightful. Nearly everything involving Nicolas Cage as Dracula is a hoot. It’s fine that Cage and the vampire character isn’t the main focus, but it’s notable just how lacking the other half of the film is. Instead of more fun, we get a half-baked police tale, involving serial killing, a crime family, and not much that’s interesting. Caught in the middle is the title character and their work on themself. Depending on where the element is leaning, it’s more or less successful. Unfortunately, it’s just caught in a mixed bag of a flick.

Universal Pictures

Robert Montague Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) was once a real estate lawyer, but a fateful visit to the castle of Count Dracula (Cage) resulted in not a business deal, but in him becoming the vampire’s familiar. Over the years, Renfield has helped Dracula find victims, moved him from place to place, and basically lived for him. Now holed up in New Orleans while a wounded Count recovers, Renfield has begun attending a support group for people in toxic relationships. Hearing their plights makes him feel he’s not alone, potentially even suggesting that one day he might break free.

Of course, nothing is simple for him, and while dealing with Dracula’s abuse, he also gets caught up in the investigation of a cop (Awkwafina) into a crime family led by Bellafrancesca Lobo (Shohreh Aghdashloo). Renfield is both a suspect and a witness into various slayings, though the cop’s obsession with taking down Ted Lobo (Ben Schwartz), who he nearly killed, brings them together. Renfield is closer than ever to a normal life, but once Dracula finds out, he not only wants to put his familiar in his place, he’s also got newfound plans for world domination.

Universal Pictures

Nicholas Hoult and especially Nicolas Cage are quite enjoyable here. Cage in particularly is relishing playing Count Dracula, hamming it up but very much paying tribute to other cinematic interpretations of the character. He’s an absolute riot. Hoult is very solid, able to hit all of his comedic notes and being a more than capable action hero. Unfortunately, Awkwafina is completely miscast, even though her role is poorly written. Whenever the focus is on her, the movie suffers. It’s not her fault, but it is noticeable. Shohreh Aghdashloo is wasted, while Ben Schwartz is out of a whole other movie. Supporting players include James Moses Black, Camille Chen, Brandon Scott Jones, Adrian Martinez, and more.

Director Chris McKay knows he has an ace up his sleeve with Cage, but sadly he, along with writers Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ridley, don’t know what to do with the rest of the story. The Awkwafina and crime section just feels like a placeholder for a better idea than never came along. The Cage/Dracula related comedy works, while the horror and accompanying gore land. It’s just the strange disconnect between the fun/weird element and the incredibly bland element that feel at odds with one another. You’ll see really clever homages to classic Universal Dracula movies, especially at the beginning, but then there will be a halfhearted police procedural. It’s just needlessly messy.

Renfield is disappointing only because of what it could have been…and in fact, what it almost is. A little less of the cop/crime stuff and a little more of Nicolas Cage as Count Dracula and this would have been a home run. I clearly didn’t dislike it, but the film falls just short of where it needs to be to warrant a recommendation. Alas.

SCORE: ★★1/2


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Written by Joey Magidson

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