Renfield is an entertaining movie that effectively accomplishes the goals it sets for itself. The movie is equal parts origin story, romantic comedy, and action thriller. And I know I’ve previously railed against movies that refuse to pick a lane (I’m looking at you, Nope (2022)), but Renfield makes this mashup strategy work by not taking itself too seriously. A lot of the movie is hilarious parody of every Dracula movie ever made and it all resonates even if your knowledge of Dracula lore is not that extensive. It’s a creative choice that gives you license to guiltlessly immerse yourself in what the movie is: 90 minutes of whimsical film spectacle.
For starters, Renfield is a visually stunning movie. The colors are fantastic. The shadowy lighting and blue tints that initially drape Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) feel appropriately melancholic. The set designs of Dracula’s lairs feel authentically cryptic. (The overabundance of candles look like a fire hazard though, but I digress.) The shades of red that pop off the screen in other scenes are a subtle allusion to the more sanguine elements of the film. These are perfect backdrops for a well-told story.
Renfield takes the Dracula story from Tod Browning’s 1931 cinematic iteration of the legend and gives Renfield the microphone so that he can tell his side of it. Nicholas Hoult pays the work due homage by giving a really strong performance as Renfield, Dracula’s servant (slave). His soft-spoken narration throughout the film is smooth and earnest. His onscreen demeanor is so agreeable. Hoult does a great job of compelling you to sympathize with the plight of his character even though he exists in a prison of his own making.
And Nicolas Cage’s performance as Dracula is crucial to that outcome. Cage channels his inner Castor Troy from Face/Off (1997) and gives us the perfect villain for our protagonist. Dracula is narcissistic, violent, and manipulative. At one point, Dracula demands that Renfield bring him *checks notes* a “convent of nuns” or a “busload of cheerleaders” for his lecherous consumption. The two then have a short back-and-forth to hash out the fact that this version of Dracula is a carnivory predator and not a sexual one. The movie is full of clever little exchanges like that throughout the entire cast. And the entirety of the cast is one of the best things about Renfield.
The film doesn’t rely too heavily on Nicolas Cage to make the film a success. (Chris McKay, the film’s director, is very efficient in how he uses Cage though.) Each main cast member, and even some supporting ones, get a chance to shine and contribute meaningfully to the story. Two people in particular are Awkwafina and Ben Schwartz. The chemistry between Awkwafina’s Quincy and Hoult’s Renfield is one of the more endearing aspects of the movie. She consistently provides him with good segue to be tender and expressive in their scenes together. That dynamic is vital to convincing the audience to sympathize with Renfield despite his culpability as an accessory to scores of murders since he became Dracula’s assistant. I don’t find her as funny as other people tend to give her credit for being, but she gives a solid performance in this role.
Ben Schwartz gives another solid performance as Teddy Lobo. He hasn’t been this funny since his Parks and Recreation days. (Google “Best of Jean Ralphio” and thank me later!) Teddy Lobo is a momma’s boy gangster who always seems to be in over his head. His presentation of his bona fides to Count Dracula is a great example. His bumbling idiot personality is a bit of a cliché, as is Awkwafina’s bit as the only good cop in a cesspool of municipal corruption, but the artifices do feel necessary to set up the more profound elements of Renfield.
Ultimately, Renfield is less about the legend of Dracula and more about surviving toxic relationships and institutions. Renfield made a bad choice becoming Dracula’s assistant, but that shouldn’t doom him to an eternity of misery, should it? Should Quincy compromise her principles to be a good teammate? The therapy session scenes that answer those questions feel cathartic. And not just for the players but for the audience as well. “I deserve to be happy. I deserve to be loved!” Yes, we do!
Renfield is in theaters now!