Renfield movie review

Renfield Review: Nicolas Cage Sinks His Teeth Into Dracula

It doesn't suck.

Renfield starts with a lot of promise. In a tribute to the silver screen’s iconic portrayal of Dracula by Bela Lugosi, Nicolas Cage as the Prince of Darkness is cleverly inserted into footage from the 1931 film alongside his familiar, Renfield (Nicholas Hoult). It’s a clever way to pay homage to the fanged portrayals of the past (mostly essences of Christopher Lee and Lon Chaney here) and to set up that they’ll be borrowing the best — and bloodiest bits — from the vampire movie canon.

Though Cage gets top billing in the credits and is undoubtedly the biggest draw for the film — make no mistake, this is not his story. Renfield concerns Robert Montague Renfield (Hoult), Dracula’s infamous familiar who does his nightly bidding for him. Seduced by ambition and greed, Renfield signed a pact with the vampire that sees him tending to his master’s every whim. But their dynamic is no longer working for Renfield, who — after 100 years of servitude — is looking for a break from his overbearing tyrant of a boss.

Breaking free of this relationship won’t be easy, and Renfield’s life is made all the more complicated by the introduction of a new woman. Rebecca (Awkwafina) is a New Orleans beat cop who has her sights set on getting justice for her father, who died at the hands of a local crime family headed by Tedward (Ben Schwartz) and his mom Bellafrancesca (Shoreh Aghdashloo).

At a clipped 93-minute runtime, it is astonishing how fast Renfield flies by as different plot threads unspool simultaneously. With so much action going on, including choreographed fight scenes reminiscent of John Wick, it’s hard to keep up with where this movie is going. Viewers may experience whiplash as the film moves between characters, scenes and plot points. So much so that one might think a little too much was cut in haste and left on the editing room floor. Scenes and decisions are given little room to breathe before we’re abruptly thrown to the next sequence, making the tone shift wildly at times. Director Chris McKay (The Tomorrow War) and writer Ryan Ridley (Rick and Morty) don’t seem overly concerned with connecting the dots, but rather how many dots they can cram onto the screen.


That said, it’s unlikely that viewers are heading into Renfield for new insights on Dracula or vampire lore. While the ideas put forward in Renfield’s support group for people in abusive relationships offers humour, the tone doesn’t always quite keep up with the film’s intentions to be funny. With a more skilled hand and refined comedy chops, the film could’ve come across with a What We Do In The Shadows vibe.

But let’s be honest: the reason most people will flock to Renfield is Nicolas Cage and they won’t be disappointed. 1998’s Vampire’s Kiss was a box office flop-turned-cult classic and in Renfield he gets to build on one of the zanier portrayals from his early career canon. But Cage isn’t quite in full camp mode here and one can’t help wishing that both he and the film had dialled it up a notch or two. The Oscar winner is definitely having fun with his sharpened fangs, mumbly Brando-esque accent, and a cape, but it’s his chemistry with Hoult that really stands out. Reuniting with Hoult, who previously played his son in 2005’s The Weather Man, allows the pair to riff on one another and display an impressive and comfortable rapport. It’s a shame they don’t really have more scenes where we get to see their 100-year-old dynamic at play.

Hoult is well-cast as the affable the title character. Not quite sure of himself, he leans into positive affirmations as he attempts to find who he is. Embracing a wardrobe from Old Navy and a colourful apartment, Hoult’s Renfield is perfectly goofy and endearing. Unlike Harvey Guillén’s masterfully comedic performance as a vampire’s know-it-all familiar who wishes he was immortal in What We Do In The Shadows, Hoult’s Renfield is in desperate need of reassurance that he can live a fulfilling life away from Dracula’s shadow.

Unfortunately, Awkwafina’s cop character and Schwartz’s villain feel as if they’re lifted out of an entirely different genre and thrown into a vampire comedy. Though it’s an original spin, it’s one that doesn’t quite mesh as it vacillates between gritty and gory crime to zanier vampire goofiness. There is also the blatant misfire of an attempted romance between Renfield and Rebecca that is sweet but almost too bland to even register amid the graphic gun battles on screen, again feeling like perhaps more of this plot was excised from the final film.


All in all, Renfield doesn’t quite suck, but it’s not the campy vampire comedy we — or Nicolas Cage — deserve.

Renfield opens in theatres on April 14.