Sometimes Nicolas Cage going into full-on Nicolas Cage mode is enough!
“Renfield” is based on the titular assistant of Count Dracula, and follows his journey to stop serving the infamous vampire and have a normal life. Nicholas Hoult plays Renfield, Nic Cage portrays the Count, and Awkwafina, Ben Schwartz, Adrian Martinez, and Shohreh Aghdashloo appear in supporting roles; Chris McKay directs.
I’m a big horror-comedy guy, films like “The Babysitter” and “Freaky” are just so much fun to me. So a well-executed take about Dracula’s assistant bringing bodies to him in the modern world could be a lot of fun! And for the most part, “Renfield” does find the proper balance of campy scares and over-the-top violence, though it may not take as much advantage of its premise as one may hope.
Nicholas Hoult has been a solid and consistent actor through his career, and has portrayed a variety of characters (from pompous in “The Favourite” and “The Menu” to sympathetic in “Warm Bodies” and the “X-Men” reboots). Here, his Renfield is seriously lacking in self-respect and confidence (having to kill people for an immortal monster for 100 years will do that to a person), though Hoult is able to give him some charm. He and Awkwafina (playing herself for the 10th straight film) have some fun buddy chemistry, too.
The real star, as expected, is Nic Cage, who is chewing every inch of scenery as Count Dracula. Cage was clearly given carte blanche with his performance, and does everything from flamboyantly chuckling to menacingly screaming at Renfield (as ONLY Nicolas CAGE can DO!). It’s the kind of performance one would expect from an actor like Cage in a role like this, and he doesn’t disappoint.
Chris McKay (who directed the comedy “The Lego Batman Movie” and action film “The Tomorrow War”) gets to blend the two genres here, and has fun with it. The action scenes are over-the-top (Renfield tears a bad guy’s arms off, blood comically flies everywhere, and he impales another villain with them), and while they aren’t as well-staged as a “John Wick” fight they’re fun; I chuckled on more than one occasion. A lot of the jokes are pretty obvious, but the actor’s delivery and McKay’s direction manage to salvage enough laughs.
The film only runs 93 minutes, though it feels simultaneously overlong and undercooked. When we meet Renfield he has already grown tired of his life of servitude, and we only see him go on one vigilante mission before attempting to leave Dracula. I think fleshing out (no pun intended) the world a bit more would have been a better choice, letting us see a bit of Renfield in action killing bad guys before beginning his turn to the good side to make the switch feel earned (it also hints at his backstory but never goes into detail). But end of the day this is just a goofy $65 million comedy with vampires, so we shouldn’t expect Scorsese.
“Renfield” may be less than the sum of its parts, but my audience had fun and I can see myself revisiting this during Spooky Season a few years down the line. Anyone who is a fan of horror-comedies or an unleashed Nic Cage should get their kicks, and enough here works to be worth checking out.
Critics Rating: 6/10