Directed by: Chris McKay
Written by: Ryan Eidley & Robert Kirkman
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Nicolas Cage, Awkwafina, Ben Schwartz & Shohreh Aghdashloo
Let’s cut to the chase here – ‘Renfield‘ is almost certainly going to end up being one of my Top 5 Favorite Movies of 2023. There are no two way about it. The movie is fun, it subverts expectations and it is just an outright bloody and brutal good time. For what I thought would be a slightly cheesy film about how hard it is work for Dracula and how over-the-top I thought Nic Cage playing Dracula would be, I’m happy to say that I was incorrect on both counts. Don’t get me wrong… when you cast Nicolas Cage as Dracula, you’re going to get Nicolas Cage as Dracula. BUT, the way he plays Dracula is brilliant! He channels Bela Lugosi but in his own inimitable style. You see quick glimpses of Nic Cage and then straight back into Bela and always at just the right times. Cage isn’t playing any of it for laughs, nor is Nicholas Holt who plays the titular character of Robert Montague Renfield. In fact, everyone in the film plays their characters straight on and just let the humor come from the absurdity that results from the situation. This makes the entire film endearingly funny. And speaking of endearing, Holt’s performance as Renfield is delightful. Director Chris McKay and writers Ryan Eidley & Robert Kirkman take a small side character from the Dracula lore and craft an entire movie around him in an extremely clever way.
In most stories and adaptations of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula“, Renfield is only seen in the confines of the lunatic asylum run by Dr. John Steward. He has been granted limited power by Dracula and eats bugs to consume their lifeforce and serves as The Count’s pawn in his various schemes. In this version, Renfield is still Dracula’s familiar, but with a modern twist. After Dracula is severely injured battling a group of vampire hunters, the duo move to an abandoned hospital in New Orleans. In this new city, Renfield joins a support group for co-dependent people and ends up going after the various group members’ problematic influences (I.E. overbearing parents, abusive boyfriends, etc) and delivering them to Dracula for sustenance during his healing period. But when Renfield falls for a traffic cop (played by Awkwafina) after helping her take on the spoiled son of a mafia boss, he decides to break the chain of co-dependency and become his own man. Much to the displeasure of Dracula.
The movie hit all the right notes for me. It was fun, it has a great cast and it cleverly walked the line between keeping true to what Dracula is about without ever making Dracula the focus. Let me be clear: There is a LOT of blood in this movie. You wouldn’t think I’d have to provide that disclaimer about a vampire movie, but it’s an egregious amount of blood. And violence. LOTS of violence. The fights border between being incredibly well choreographed and just downright silly. Yet, it somehow works! The entire concept is absurd on its face, but the actors all dive headfirst into the absurdity and embrace it thus making comedy happen without ever purposely trying to be funny. With just a few exceptions, most of the effects seem to be practical. There is the usual Dracula turning into a swarm of bats and becoming smoke and some things like that, but I can’t imagine the special effects budget was too obscenely big on this film. This also serves to make the movie all the more charming, in my opinion. My friend who went to this screening with me was chatting on the drive back and as we talked, we decided that it’s almost like ‘What We Do In The Shadows‘ meets ‘Kill Bill‘ in style and tone. I’m hard pressed to find much fault with this movie other than to say that it had the heft of a mid-90’s action flick. And, really, that’s not even a criticism in my eyes. The early nods to ‘Nosferatu’ and 1931’s ‘Dracula’ set the table for what was to come and the cast brought it home with a film that satisfies and, if the audience at my screening was any indication, thoroughly delights. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give ‘Renfield’ a solid 9. Given the limted special effects that I discussed earlier, I’d say there’s no need to see this one in 3-D or any type of enhanced viewing, but it’s definitely one that I highly recommend going out to see on the big screen. ‘Renfield’ opens in theaters everywhere starting April 14th.