Getting out of a toxic relationship can be challenging, especially when it’s over a century old and with a famous vampire.
That’s the premise of Chris McKay’s “Renfield,” starring Nicholas Hoult as the titular R.M. Renfield, who has been Count Dracula’s (Nicholas Cage) familiar for at least a century. It started when Renfield tried to make a real estate deal with Dracula over his Transylvania estate, but devolved into servitude over the years.
The estate that Renfield sold his soul for is long gone, as the roaming prince of darkness has been going through a cycle in which he feeds until he reaches “full power,” monster hunters come to vanquish Dracula but only manage to cripple him, and the two relocate to a new city. Renfield is tired and over Dracula, who views him as a possession, which eventually leads Renfield to seek out a self-help group for those in co-dependent relationships. Renfield originally goes there in order to find abusers to feed to Dracula, but he connects with the group members, realizing he needs a change.
Meanwhile, our B plot involves a foul-mouthed cop named Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina), who is trying to take down the Lobo crime family, who killed her father. She very nearly takes down Teddy Lobo (Ben Schwartz), the family’s weak link, but is stopped due to internal corruption in the police department. Still, Teddy’s mother, Bellafrancesca (Shohreh Aghdashloo), is not amused and orders her dead. It’s at this point Rebecca meets Renfield and they help each other out.
This is a pretty funny movie, though its jokes don’t always land. However, the witty premise and uncanny deliver from the actors keep the production afloat. Cage was a great choice for Dracula, as he is able to give the role the blend of terror, camp and comedy it needed. Hoult pairs well with him as his awkward and fed-up servant. The best parts of this film are easily their banter.
Awkwafina and Schwartz are obnoxious and their characters feel like they don’t belong in this film. Schwartz in particular feels miscast and it doesn’t feel like he takes his role seriously. His casting feels like a joke, one that doesn’t work, as he functions as a sort-of straight man to Renfield, Rebecca and Dracula’s antics. The issue is that he feels disengaged with everything around him, as nothing seems to have real consequence for him.
Awkwafina serves as Renfield’s bestie, but their chemistry does not work nearly as well as Renfield’s with Dracula. Her story falls flat and is rushed — it’s like the filmmakers hastily pasted the cliffnotes from another film in order to give her character something to do.
“Renfield” is an interesting horror-comedy focusing on Dracula’s lesser-known servant, though it fails to reach its full potential. It looks and feels like a cheaply-made film for streaming that would have done fine there, except for the fact that this is a $65 million theatrical film that bombed financially.
I don’t think that its lack of success in theaters has anything to do with the quality of the film; it’s just very niche and isn’t something every general audience members will be into.
“Renfield” gets a 7.5/10
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