Relationships are hard and the abusive, co-dependant ones are toxic for a person’s mental health and can ruin lives. Not the intro you expected for a review of a vampire movie starring Nic Cage? Well, fear not. Renfield does indeed tackle said relationship subject matter, but in a frenetic, hilarious and cartoon-ishly violent way.
Set in modern day, Dracula (Nicolas Cage) and his bug eating familiar, Renfield (Nicholas Hoult), have spent hundreds of years in a pattern of feasting, getting attacked by church hunters, and then having to regroup in other parts of the world. Most recently, the undead duo set up shop in New Orleans after Dracula took an extra crispy beat-down, resulting in a long recovery that requires full reliance on Renfield for his survival. But while in search of Dracula’s next meal, Renfield attends a support group for abusive relationships, leading him to wonder if his life of servitude to the dark one is the wrong choice.
Directed by Chris McKay (The LEGO Batman Movie), Renfield pops from start to finish with snappy, stylized direction and a side-splitting, laugh out loud performance from Cage. It’s quite refreshing to see the quirky, beloved star get a role where he can be fully unleashed and he makes the most of it. Every line delivery and body movement is pure Cage, stepping into the role of a Bela Lugosi inspired Dracula – a role he was born to play.
Holt is obviously overshadowed, but manages to hold his own as the main protagonist of the film. The actor’s penchant for playing awkwardly strange, but likable characters (see Warm Bodies, the X-Men films) is on full display and it’s easy to have empathy for his plight as he is constantly abused by Dracula, both physically and emotional, in the co-dependant metaphor that runs through Renfield.
The films clocks in at an optimal 90 minutes, but there are some elements that still slow it down. Awkwafina plays a New Orleans police officer that befriends Renfield, making for some fun buddy cop banter akin to her role in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Oddly though, the story vaguely sets up a psuedo-love interest between the two, albeit mostly on Renfield’s side, that never gets explored. Which is for the best, since most of their chemistry worked as a strictly platonic friendship.
Also, on that end of the story, there’s a whole b-plot involving the mob and corruption in the police ranks that is there strictly to provide filler and cannon-fodder for Dracula and Renfield to destroy by ridiculously violent means. The mob plot line obviously couldn’t be cut for time purposes, but on the positive side, it did give the film Ben Schwartz doing his lovable jerk schtick as the son of the mob queen.
Let’s be honest though, Cage is killer in this and the reason to buy your ticket. He owns every second of his screen time and is clearly loving what he’s doing. The jokes are dark, witty and sometimes quite insightful. But make no mistake, Renfield is a silly good time and a terrific turn-your-brain-off comedy.
Score: 4 out of 5