Movie Review: Renfield

As already ably shown by the clever FX series What We Do In the Shadows, being a vampire’s familiar is a thankless job, filled with laborious and often grisly tasks in exchange for little if any reward. While the vampires in that show dangle the promise of one day making their familiars into vampires themselves, in the recent horror comedy Renfield no such offer is made, instead Count Dracula (a delightfully over-the-top Nicolas Cage) uses his powers to hypnotize an unsuspecting Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) into serving him and then employs various emotionally abusive tactics to keep him under his control and also granting him superpowers (whenever he eats a bug) and at least a seriously extended lifespan (this part is never really explained).

Decades after the pair were first united, they are now residing in an abandoned hospital in New Orleans, where Dracula is recovering from injuries sustained in the last battle for his life and Renfield is tasked with retrieving victims to help nurse him back to health. In doing so, he had stumbled upon a support group for people in codependent relationships and found that he had much in common with the attendees, leading him to become a regular member. Unable to bring himself to continue hurting innocent people, he begins to target the abusive people in the lives of the group’s members. This doesn’t satisfy Dracula, who insists that the innocence of the victims is the point.

One of Renfield’s marks turns out to also be a target of crime boss Tedward Lobo (Ben Schwartz), which gets them to start focusing some of their attention on him. When he also rescues Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina), one of the city’s few honest cops, from a Lobo family attack at a busy restaurant, Tedward’s mother Bellafrancesca (Shohreh Aghdashloo) orders her group to hunt the pair down at once. So the duo find themselves on the run from Dracula, the Lobos, and Rebecca’s corrupt coworkers on the force.

Aside from the unique take on Renfield’s relationship with Dracula, the plot doesn’t really go anywhere unexpected and is probably best not thought about too deeply. Director Chris McKay (The Lego Batman Movie) does do a decent job of handling the film’s many different tones, ably switching between comedy, action, some horror, and even a few more earnest moments. The wildly excessive gore is played for laughs rather than scares, which sometimes gives the film the feel of an R-rated Looney Tunes adventure. This worked pretty well for me, but personal taste will dictate your tolerance for it. The entire cast, even down to the smallest supporting roles, are game for the insanity and Hoult and Awkwafina are a delight to watch as always, but Cage steals every scene he is in, mixing the creepiness of Max Schreck’s iconic Count Orlok in Nosferatu with an irresistible dose of high camp. The movie is worth watching for his performance alone, but will likely entertain anyone who also enjoys James Gunn’s Troma-influenced brand of mayhem. ★★★

rated r for bloody violence, some gore, language throughout, and some drug use.

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★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor

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