Nicolas Cage's Dracula Comedy 'Renfield' Bites Off a Little Too Much Directed by Chris McKay
Starring Nicholas Hoult, Nicolas Cage, Awkwafina, Ben Schwartz, Adrian Martinez, Shohreh Aghdashloo
Published Apr 13, 2023I suppose the key was in the title: Renfield was always going to be about R.M. Renfield, Dracula's servant, and not the Prince of Darkness himself. And while Nicholas Hoult puts in a formidable performance as the familiar, I couldn't help but come away from Renfield wanting more from Nicolas Cage's Dracula, despite the film being the batty fun guilty pleasures are made of.
There's a lot to sink your teeth into with Renfield. In Chris McKay's riff on Bram Stroker's 1897 novel Dracula, Renfield is a former real estate lawyer who got sucked into Dracula's world centuries ago. We catch up with Renfield in the present, where he and Dracula are living in New Orleans as Dracula recovers from a near-fatal attack. Renfield dutifully, though reluctantly, brings his master fresh bodies for him to drink dry as he slowly regains his strength.
Unbeknownst to Dracula, Renfield has been attending support group therapy meetings at a local church for people in toxic relationships. Through their stories, Renfield begins to recognize how he has been manipulated and his dynamic with Dracula is entirely dysfunctional. This, coupled with his ever-growing distaste for killing innocents in Dracula's name, makes Renfield want to free himself from Dracula's hold.
This premise alone is engaging enough, and with Hoult and Cage's comedic abilities, the story could have shone as a tongue-in-cheek dark comedy. However, McKay and screenwriter Ryan Ridley engage in a separate subplot involving a corrupt police department and the Lobo mob family that runs the city, which only serves as a distraction.
Awkwafina as Officer Rebecca Quincy, the morally straight traffic cop whose father was killed in the line of duty by the Lobo family, and Ben Schwartz as Teddy Lobo, the mob boss's punk son, are perfectly pleasing in their roles. Both deliver on the comedic punches we've come to expect from them, and they each hold their own in action sequences, but their addition feels empty and unnecessary.
It's kind of surprising it's taken this long for Cage to take on the Count. His dark, deep-set features and cartoonish (in the best way possible) method of acting makes him a prime candidate for the role, and he delivers in spades. His monologues are outlandish and droll in a way that only Cage can execute, with some impressive prosthetic work aiding his performance (especially in the earlier parts of the film). The production design around Dracula's lair is perfectly in keeping with Cage's interpretation, and it's shame we don't spend more time there.
Even more surprising than the lack of Dracula in Cage's filmography is how gruesome Renfield is. Taking a video game-style approach to the showdowns between the mob, the cops, Dracula and Renfield, the action is delightfully extra. For those with a weaker stomach, Renfield may prove to be a bit much — but for those of us who relish in unrealistically intense action to the highest degree, the movie is ridiculously entertaining.
Parse through the police/mob storyline and the emotional notes Rebecca's familial issues are meant to hit, and there is a great movie somewhere within Renfield. As it is, the movie will definitely find an audience within the action/horror fan groups out there; and while Cage fans should be bloody pleased with his portrayal of one of literature's most iconic figures, they'll be left wanting more. (Universal)