Movie Review: Renfield

Horror-comedy mashups have been around for decades but they’re certainly having a resurgence of late with films like BEAU IS AFRAID and SCREAM VI playing in our cinemas right now. Now we have RENFIELD, which takes a humorous look at the fictional character from Bram Stoker’s classic horror novel, Dracula. In case you’ve been sleeping in a box filled with dirt from the Carpathian Mountains for the past year, Nicolas Cage plays the bloodthirsty count, and that news alone should be enough to make you sit up and take notice.

Ninety years after meeting Count Dracula (Cage, PIG) and acting as his useful assistant all this time, R. M. Renfield (Nicolas Hoult, THE MENU; THE FAVOURITE) is tired and wants out. After some vampire hunters nearly succeed in slaying the Prince of Darkness, the pair head to New Orleans where they hole up in the basement of an abandoned hospital to recuperate. To ease his conscience, Renfield joins a 12-step self-help group for people who are in co-dependent relationships so that he can find these people’s abusive partners and serve them up to his master, but he quickly realises that he is in a co-dependent relationship as well. On an outing to find one of those abusive partners, Renfield lands in the middle of a drug turf war involving a ruthless crime family, headed up by matriarch Bellafrancesca Lobo (Shohreh Aghdashloo, STAR TREK BEYOND). Needless to say, Renfield makes short shrift of Lobo’s goons, and to prove his readiness to take over the reins from his mother, son Teddy (Ben Schwartz, the voice of Sonic in the SONIC THE HEDGEHOG films) vows to hunt down the man who caused this carnage. Meanwhile, traffic cop Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina, SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS; CRAZY RICH ASIANS) has her own beef with the Lobo family.

For the most part, RENFIELD is a lot of fun. The premise is ingenious and Cage brings all his “Cageyness” to the Dracula character, channeling the likes of Bela Lugosi and Max Schreck (look them up, kids) while dressing in clothes that would make the iconic pop-artist, Andy Warhol, proud. Hoult is equally enjoyable to watch as he turns Renfield into a troubled, bug-eating superhero who just wants to live a normal, pastel-coloured life. Awkwafina does a good job too, but her character is unfortunately saddled what an overcooked backstory that bogs down the plot with unnecessary detail. RENFIELD would be a complete winner if it didn’t have the subplot of Rebecca’s family in it. This is a case where simpler would have been better.

Not forgetting that this is a horror film too, director Chris McKay (THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE, TV’s ROBOT CHICKEN) infuses the story with copious amounts of blood and gore, and points his camera at angles that are reminiscent of the old DRACULA films, but it’s all played for laughs. He also bookends the film with old-timey, fake celluloid film footage to remind audiences that we’re dealing with characters who have been on the silver screen for as long as silver screens have existed. We’ve just never seen them in this light before.

RENFIELD is playing now in Hong Kong. While it’s not as funny as it could have been, it’s still highly enjoyable and Nicolas Cage’s performance alone is worth price of admission. Check it out.

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