REVIEW: ‘Renfield’ Is a Blood-Soaked Fun Time at the Theater
5/5 Dracula blood bags
On paper, Renfield sounds nuts. Mainly because the idea of Nicolas Cage as a blood-sucking vampire did already sort of happen in Vampire’s Kiss, and that was nutty enough. From the moment Renfield was announced, the collective reaction was “huh?” and we were right to think it. Luckily, director Chris McKay and screenwriters Ryan Ridley and Robert Kirkman really made this a perfect nod to the Universal monsters we know and love—and a deeper look into toxic relationships and the pain they bring to everyone involved.
Starring Nicolas Cage as Dracula and Nicholas Hoult as the titular Robert Montague Renfield, the movie explores Renfield when he’s at his wits end. For centuries, he’s been at Dracula’s side, tending to his every need as his familiar, but he wants to enjoy living a human life. The idea hits Renfield while he is following someone he thinks would make great food for Dracula and stumbles into a meeting for people struggling with abusive relationships.
A dark horror comedy, Renfield brings us a quick, fun look at the world of Dracula with a surprising amount of heart that just inspires joy. It also leaves enough room for a deeper exploration of these characters and themes through other comedic takes on Universal’s monsters, if they really wanted to make that “Dark Universe” work.
McKay mixes a bit of humor in with his graphic action sequences and it makes for a movie that will constantly have you laughing and cringing at the same time. It’s gory, twisted, and has a scene in which Renfield uses arms like nunchucks, so … maybe just be aware of what you’re getting yourself into with Renfield.
Toxic relationships are the worst
The heart of Renfield comes from Hoult’s performance as a man trying deeply to find enough respect for himself to get out of the co-dependent relationship he’s been in with Dracula for all these years. It is often played up in funny moments, like Renfield having inspirational posters on his walls, or in the happiness he seems to find with Rebecca (Awkwafina). But it is also deeply rooted in what many individuals struggle with when they’re in these toxic situations.
Yes, it is a comedy and we’re often laughing at situations that arise, but we’re not laughing at the relationship that Renfield is in with Dracula. If anything, all the advice that group leader Mark (Brandon Scott Jones) gives to Renfield is great. He’s just woefully misunderstanding the severity of the situation because it’s actually Dracula they’re talking about.
But seeing Renfield’s growth throughout the movie is truly remarkable given the general tone of the film. You’re laughing at fight sequences, snickering about snickerdoodles, but then realizing just how much Renfield has grown outside of his connection to Dracula. And it really is genuinely amazing to see how the toxicity of his relationship with Dracula is not played for laughs.
The one time that Renfield does bring his concerns up to him, Dracula laughs, and we, as viewers, are filled with dread over what might happen to Renfield in this process. Hoult really brings a depth and upset to the role of Renfield that makes it uniquely beautiful to watch as he grows into a new man throughout the movie.
Gore and violence, oh my!
It is very important to note just how gory this movie is. Not in the sense that you’re going to throw up, necessarily, but Renfield is very bloody. It is a Dracula movie. You should be prepared for blood in some capacity. But seeing Renfield rip a man’s arms off and throw them into the chest cavity of another man is really something else. The gore and violence works given the overall tone of the film, though.
At its core, this is a comedy with a lot of heart. But it is also an action movie that has Dracula flying above people, bodies getting blown up, and Renfield kicking a man’s head clean off. However gory it may be in the end, Renfield rules, to be quite honest. The fight sequences are unique given the “powers” that Renfield possesses (triggered by eating bugs) thanks to his position as Dracula’s familiar, and they really have fun with it.
Like when we meet Teddy (Ben Schwartz) after a head hits his car window.
Teddy Lobo’s own Dracula
Ben Schwartz plays Teddy Lobo, the son of a crime boss who is trying to prove his place in the family. The reality is that Teddy is “weak” in the eyes of his mother (Shohreh Aghdashloo) and he uses the toxicity in that relationship to fuel his bad intentions. He has his funny moments, like the scene in which Rebecca is trying to tell her partner that Teddy Lobo is driving towards them and when her partner asks how she knows, Teddy screams “I’m Teddy Lobo!” While he does have that quintessential Schwartz charm, Teddy is a surprisingly deep character for a comedy like this.
He’s conflicted, weak, and not quite sure what he is doing, and we see all of that in Schwartz’s performance. It makes for a complicated yet fascinating character to watch square off against Hoult’s Renfield and Awkwafina’s Rebecca.
My Warm Bodies love in a new form
We all know that Nicholas Hoult has mastered the art of playing a sweet man who is a lot more complicated than you think. And we also know that he has a wickedness to him, which we’ve seen in things like The Great. But this sort of soft confusion that Renfield has reminded me a lot of what I loved about his performance as R in Warm Bodies.
Maybe it’s just the “Nicholas Hoult Takes on Monsters” extended universe that I love, but there really is a beauty to how he approaches characters like this. You could easily have an actor playing Renfield as more aggressive, but Hoult brings a sadness to the character that makes him someone we care for, even as he’s contemplating murdering a busload of cheerleaders for Dracula.
I mean, it’s Nic Cage as Dracula. It rules
If there was ever a role that perfectly fit Cage’s acting style, it’s this one. His over-the-top approach to Dracula works so well in making him such a menacing figure throughout Renfield’s story. And he has that Cage flair that many of us have come to adore over the years. To be quite honest, Renfield has made me want an entire monster universe where Cage is just playing all of them because he’s that good as Dracula.
The greatness of his performance comes from his own presence as an actor and the power we know that Cage has. It truly makes for one of his best performances to date. But then again, it is Nic Cage. He’s never had a bad performance, and even if you think he did, you’re wrong. Dracula is just the perfect continuation of his career and legacy, and I truly do think that this is a role we will see him in again. Or at least I hope so.
Renfield hits theaters on April 14 and you don’t want to miss it.
(featured image: Universal Pictures)
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