"Renfield" stars Nicholas Hoult, Nicolas Cage, Awkwafina, Ben Schwartz, Shohreh Aghdashloo, and Adrian Martinez. Released on April 14, 2023, the film has Count Dracula's lackey attempting to escape his servitude.
The film is directed by Chris McKay, who also directed "The Lego Batman Movie" and "The Tomorrow War". Having a job has its problems, but it can be rewarding if you want to have an enriched lifestyle. However, there's nothing satisfying about having a full-time job that's all work and no pay and lasts until the end of time. The job I'm referring to is working for the king of the vampires himself: Count Dracula. Having a job like that sucks, even though it has benefits, especially from the perspective of Dracula's iconic servant. This latest horror-comedy unites the two Nicolases for an adult-rated approach to the classic master/lackey relationship between Dracula and R. M. Renfield, with the latter attempting to escape Dracula's clutches. It also marks the latest live-action directorial effort from Chris McKay, who made a serviceable live-action debut with "The Tomorrow War" following his work in the animation department. With these people involved and its gory and fun concept, this job seemed impossible to walk away from, especially for myself. But is it entertaining and violently kooky enough for us to take this job? Let's find out.
The story follows R. M. Renfield (Hoult), a young man devoted to serving his boss, the legendary vampire Count Dracula (Cage). Unfortunately, Dracula's demanding and narcissistic attitude makes Renfield regret his decision to declare servitude to him thousands of years ago. While looking for more victims to feed Dracula, Renfield finds himself in New Orleans, where he meets Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina). Rebecca is an aggressive traffic cop working for the New Orleans Police Department seeking to protect the city from mob boss Bellafrancesca (Aghdashloo) and mob enforcer Teddy Lobo (Schwartz). After finding himself in love with Rebecca, Renfield attempts to break free of his servitude to live the life he deserves.
It's evident at this point that the folks at Universal have churned out some pretty entertaining movies recently. While they're far from masterpieces, the films usually meet audiences' expectations of being fun theatrical experiences through their absurd concepts, including "Violent Night" and "Cocaine Bear". "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" continued the studio's booming trend last weekend with its record-breaking box office run and strong audience ratings. That further shows that the general public prevails over critics regarding these types of movies almost every time. This weekend sees Universal looking to keep the train going with its gory and comical reflection on the classic horror icon and his servant.
Considering my enjoyment of Universal's last couple of movies, it's unsurprising that I was curious to see "Renfield" due to its concept and cast. It's got a campy B-movie vibe that combines graphic violence with over-the-top humor amid its monster horror genre. More importantly, the king of campiness, Nicolas Cage, continues his recent comeback by becoming the latest actor to play the legendary vampire onscreen. If these elements aren't enough to tell you how absurdly corny the film is, I don't know what will. But, of course, amid its B-movie horror comedy tone, the film also needs something more for casual moviegoers to sink their teeth into. Unfortunately, its vital source of blood didn't pack as much of a flavorful punch as it needed to. But that doesn't mean I didn't have fun watching the campy carnage unfold.
Like "Cocaine Bear", "Renfield" aimed to commit to a tone that doesn't take itself seriously. It combines B-movie horror with comedy and includes the fun of seeing people get murdered in humorous and absurd ways. However, the only difference between the two is that Dracula doesn't need cocaine to go bloody nuts on his victims. After seeing what happened to that poor bear in "Cocaine Bear", I really don't want to imagine a vampire doing cocaine. "Renfield" managed to accomplish that goal with a mildly entertaining and gory depiction of a lackey learning to be his own master. This is due to Chris McKay, who manifests the corny tone and neon-esque settings to a respectable degree through his direction. However, it also has a similar problem that kept "Cocaine Bear" from being a memorable experience: there's not enough chaos and story to accompany it.
While the story in "Cocaine Bear" can be forgiven because of its entertainment values, "Renfield" struggles to earn that similar feat. Its narrative boasts an interesting reflection of the title character suffering from the harm he's done for years while stuck in a toxic relationship with his master. Additionally, he seeks to step out of his role as Dracula's husk to become independent. It has moments of heart and black comedy in its cheesiness, but Ryan Ridley's screenplay mostly fails to take full advantage of those values. The film's hour-and-a-half runtime may have been acceptable for keeping it from overstaying its welcome. However, it also burned it with the sunshiny rays of underdeveloped plot points and mediocre characters. Some of its elements felt rushed, like the relationship between Renfield and Rebecca, and I would like to see more of Renfield's attempts to live a normal life outside of servitude. If you don't care much about the story, you might have more fun with the film than I did. Otherwise, almost nothing in the narrative will make you want to feast upon it outside its R-rated violence.
The cast was serviceable for their performances amid its horror-comedy vibes, including Nicholas Hoult. Hoult's amusing portrayal of Renfield shows that he can still do comedy as effectively as action and drama, especially ones involving horror. Awkwafina did pretty well as Rebecca, even though that role could've gone to anyone else. That doesn't mean she's a poor choice to play a traffic cop seeking justice for her father's murder. Awkwafina did what she could to fit the role that combines humor with drama, and for the most part, she did all right. Ben Schwartz as Teddy is basically what happens if Sonic the Hedgehog becomes part of the mob and says plenty of bad words, and I mean that in a good way. However, the only actor that shined the most in my eyes is the great Nicolas Cage as Dracula. If you've seen Cage's previous movies, you'll know what you're getting from the actor. His performance as Dracula is hammy at best, but it's also amusingly satisfying to see him go crazy during a few scenes. It's stuff like this that makes us love Nicolas Cage as an actor.
Another element I liked is the film's visuals. "Renfield" offers a few solid uses of practical effects, especially the makeup design for Dracula and some scenes involving gore. The movie also provides some instances of CGI that weren't on par with the practical ones based on their appearance. It wasn't until the apartment fight scene that I realized the average-looking CGI in the daytime, mainly for the blood. I can understand that it's supposed to match the cheap quality of its tone, but that doesn't keep it from being a bit distracting.
Overall, "Renfield" will probably quench the thirst of those seeking fun horror-comedy vibes, but it struggles to be truly free from its restrained narrative. This is another movie that mostly succeeds in delivering a concept that's as absurd and amusing as the marketing suggested. It's pleasingly violent, occasionally funny, and packed with a decent cast, with the superstar being Nicolas Cage. Unfortunately, its blood ran dry a little too quickly than I expected due to its underdeveloped plot, middling screenplay, and runtime. It falls short of what "Violent Night" and "Cocaine Bear" delivered regarding their crazy B-movie concepts, but I had some fun watching it, which is all that matters to me. It's watchable if you like horror comedies and Nicolas Cage's hammy performances. But if you wanted something more out of the two Nicolases unleashing their bloody carnage in terms of storytelling, you'll probably want to avoid it like a piece of garlic.
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