Renfield review

Director: Chris McKay
Cast : Nicholas Hoult, Nicolas Cage, Awkwafina, Ben Schwartz, Adrian Martinez, Shohreh Aghdashloo
Genre: Horror/Comedy/Action
Run Time : 93 min
Opens : 13 April
Rating : M18

Cinema is littered with horrible bosses, including the horrible bosses featured in the eponymous movie and its sequel. It stands to reason that Dracula would be a pretty bad boss, and Renfield tackles that idea head-on.

Robert Montague Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) is the familiar of Dracula (Nicolas Cage). Over almost a hundred years, Renfield has been forced to do Dracula’s bidding, including acquiring innocent victims to feed upon. Renfield derives superhuman powers from consuming bugs. In the present day, Renfield attends a support group for people caught in dependent relationships. Renfield unwittingly finds himself amid a conflict between the New Orleans police and a local drug gang headed by Teddy Lobo (Ben Schwartz) and his mother Ella (Shohreh Aghdashloo). Renfield befriends Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina), a traffic cop whose father was killed by Lobo’s gang. Teddy discovers that Dracula is real and becomes intent on gaining Dracula’s power for himself, while Renfield musters up the strength to finally break free from his abusive boss.

Renfield is frequently funny and entertaining and at 93 minutes, doesn’t overstay its welcome. The movie is being sold primarily as a comedy but is legitimately gory and is as much an action-horror movie as it is a comedy. Director Chris McKay, who helmed The LEGO Batman Movie and the sci-fi actioner The Tomorrow War, demonstrates a healthy affection for the classic Universal horror movies. McKay intends for Renfield to be a direct sequel to the 1931 Dracula movie starring Bela Lugosi and directed by Tod Browning. We get a sense of what we’re in for with a concise prologue, featuring Hoult and Cage re-enacting scenes from that movie, in black-and-white and in the appropriate aspect ratio.

Hoult is a sympathetic presence, playing “out of his depth” well. He also acquits himself well during the action sequences and plays off both Cage (who was his onscreen father in The Weather Man) and Awkwafina with considerable charm.

The movie more than earns its M18 rating with bloody dismemberments and assorted carnage. Renfield might be goofy, but it has the creature feature bona fides where it counts, with a crew including genre veterans like makeup artists Christian Tinsley and Brian Sipe and concept artists Crash McCreery and Aaron Sims. Renfield’s action sequences are kinetic and more elaborate than one might find in the average horror comedy. Stunt coordinator Chris Brewster worked on the Daredevil series and was Charlie Cox’s stunt double, so some of the action here is quite impressive.

Renfield is very much stuck in the shadow of, um, What We Do in the Shadows. The feature film and subsequent TV series have become the definitive comedic depictions of vampires and are obvious influences. In the series, the relationship between a vampire and his long-suffering familiar played out in entertaining fashion via the characters Nandor and Guillermo. Renfield delivers a lot of stuff that’s like that, just not quite as good. Some of the humour feels dated, including an extended bit about ska music. The movie wants to have high stakes, but those don’t necessarily gel with the overall silly tone, so it becomes difficult to care about the mob boss subplot that winds up feeling out of place, despite charismatic turns from Ben Schwartz and Shohreh Agdashloo as the secondary antagonists.

The movie’s big selling point is Nicolas Cage as Dracula. Vampire’s Kiss was just the warm-up. Whatever you’re picturing when you hear the words “Nicolas Cage as Dracula”, Renfield delivers pretty much that. Cage is clearly having a lot of fun with the role, delivering the hell out of lines like “I’m the reeeal victim heeeere!” and getting to be as over-the-top as he wants. Cage has a well-documented love of German expressionism, which was a key influence on the 1931 Dracula movie. Unfortunately, we were hoping for a bit more of a surprise, and there isn’t that. It’s still quality Cage but given the various directions Cage could have gone in, this seems like the most predictable one.

Summary: Renfield is funny, fast-paced and entertaining, featuring Nicholas Hoult and Nicolas Cage playing off each other and having a great time doing so. While it’s primarily being sold as a goofy comedy, it is also a thoroughly gory action horror movie featuring some well-crafted set pieces. Unfortunately, its central premise was executed better in the What We Do in the Shadows series, which also featured a comically-rendered relationship between a despotic vampire and a long-suffering familiar. As much fun as it is watching Nicolas Cage play Dracula, he does nothing surprising with the role. Still, director Chris McKay keeps the energy up and this is a blood-drenched good time.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

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