Renfield Is a Flawed but Fun Take on the Dracula Mythos

I have to be honest, when I first heard that Universal was making a movie about Renfield, I was pretty skeptical. Of all the characters in their fantastic horror catalog, why this guy? Sure, he can be a great side character (as he is, for example, in the 1931 Dracula), but I wasn’t sure how he’d work as the star of the show. But then the first trailer came out, and I did a complete 180. This film looked fantastic, so I immediately became super-excited to check it out. I bought a ticket as soon as I could, and after finally getting the chance to see it, I’m happy to report that I was not disappointed.

Renfield was directed by Chris McKay, and it stars Nicholas Hoult, Nicolas Cage, Awkwafina, Ben Schwartz, Adrian Martinez, and Shohreh Aghdashloo. It’s about a troubled man named Robert Montague Renfield who’s been Dracula’s servant for many, many years, and he’s finally had enough. He wants to break free of the evil count’s shackles, and along the way he meets a police officer named Rebecca who’s trying to take down the crime family that killed her father. At first, it seems like she might be his ticket to independence, but it soon becomes clear that he’s unwittingly drawn the woman and her conflict into Dracula’s twisted web of death.

That’s a really interesting approach to the Dracula mythos, and while it could’ve been overly sappy and cheesy, it actually works really well. For starters, as most of you probably know, Renfield is a horror comedy, and it totally knocks it out of the park on both fronts. Let’s start with the horror. This movie doesn’t have any straight-up scares, but it more than makes up for that lack with some really awesome gore and violence.

See, in this world, Renfield isn’t just a normal human. Dracula hasn’t turned him into a vampire, but in order to help him carry out his work, the count has given him some of his powers. He has superhuman speed, strength, and endurance, and when he uses those abilities, his enemies don’t stand a chance. His fights result in numerous severed limbs (including heads!), an absolute ton of blood, and a whole bunch of supernatural whoop-ass that looks like a more brutal version of Deadpool.

Renfield looking concerned

Along similar lines, when Dracula goes to town on his victims, he also leaves behind a massive trail of blood and guts. In fact, this is quite possibly the goriest version of the Transylvanian count we’ve ever seen on the big screen, so when it comes to over-the-top violence and gore, Renfield delivers in spades.

On top of all that, there are also a few times when this movie goes for a more traditional horror vibe, and those moments are pretty cool too. Granted, they’re not exactly scary, but they’re eerie and atmospheric enough that I think hardcore genre fans are going to appreciate these familiar touches.

Next, let’s talk a bit about the comedy. It’s pretty much the same kind of humor we saw in the trailers, so if you thought they were funny, you’re going to get a kick out of this movie. Granted, like any comedy, not every single joke works, but it has more than enough good ones that I for one didn’t mind the duds at all.

Last but not least, we have the performances. The acting in this film is good enough all around that I enjoyed all of the characters, even the underdeveloped side characters, but hands down, the real stars of this show are Nicholas Hoult, Nicolas Cage, and Awkwafina.

Nicholas Hoult plays Renfield, and he’s excellent. He imbues the character with the kind of pathos you just can’t help but love, so you sympathize with Renfield immediately. He makes you want to see this guy break free of his toxic relationship with Dracula, and that gives the film a solid emotional foundation to build its story on.

Dracula looking straight ahead

On the complete other side of the spectrum, we have Nicolas Cage, who plays Dracula. As you might expect, he gives a typically over-the-top Nic Cage performance, and if you were skeptical about whether that would work for this particular character, you can put that fear to rest. While this version of the count would feel out of place in a more serious movie, it’s perfect for Renfield. It fits right in with the comedic tone of the film, and when Nic Cage goes full-on Nic Cage, it’s a thing of beauty.

As for Awkwafina, well, she’s Awkwafina. She plays Rebecca, and she pretty much just does what she’s typically known for. She’s really funny in this role, and she adds just enough real emotion to make her character work. Sure, it’s not an amazing performance, but much like Cage’s over-the-top turn as Dracula, it works really well in this movie.

All that being said, Renfield does have one big flaw that keeps it from being truly great. While I loved the horror and the comedy in this film, the story wasn’t nearly up to par. In fact, I’d even say the story here is pretty weak. It tries to blend Renfield’s search for freedom with Rebecca’s quest to bring down the crime family that killed her father, and while those two plot threads do eventually come together, for most of the movie’s runtime, they don’t mesh very well.

Up until the end, it feels like the film is simply juxtaposing these two storylines rather than truly integrating them into a single overarching narrative, so it sometimes seems like the plot is meandering aimlessly rather than moving towards a definite conclusion. What’s more, because the movie has to juggle these two stories, it’s never able to fully develop either one, so they both feel pretty undercooked. Because of that, the story as a whole feels hollow, so as much as I enjoyed the experience, it’s not going to stick with me the way, say, Infinity Pool or Scream VI have.

But at the end of the day, that one complaint is still outweighed by everything Renfield gets right. Sure, it’s not quite as good as I wanted it to be, but the great comedy, fun horror, and excellent characters are more than enough to earn it an enthusiastic thumbs up from me.

Renfield hits theaters on April 14.

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Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong horror fan. From a very early age, he learned to love monsters, ghosts, and all things spooky, and it's still his favorite genre today.

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