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Review

Renfield (2023)

"I'm a vampire! I'm a vampire! I'm a vampire!"

The pitch is clear just from the top billing: Nicolas Cage is playing Dracula. Talk about a slam dunk. And indeed, Cage’s performance in Chris McKay’s Renfield is the best part about it. Even when his character feels slightly out of step with the film’s overall tone, Cage’s Dracula is enough to make this movie not just watchable but incredibly enjoyable: It’s a Lugosi impersonation simmered in Cage’s usual unhinged energy, a tasty treat.

Renfield drops us into the 21st-century exploits of Dracula and his servant, Renfield (Nicholas Hoult). Renfield infiltrates a group therapy session for people dealing with codependency issues while searching for Dracula’s victims. The session inspires Renfield to seek independence from his vampiric overlord. Meanwhile, traffic cop Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina) sets her sights on taking down a gang called the Lobos, the group responsible for her father’s death, including Teddy (Ben Schwartz, always a hoot). Her investigation collides with Dracula’s reign of bloodshed, pushing her and Renfield into an unlikely alliance to take down the new Dracula-Lobo axis of evil.

It’s a bit strange given the Cage-as-Dracula pitch how much energy the movie devotes to being a comedic crime-thriller rather than a campy horror comedy. Nonetheless, it’s a pretty entertaining ride. All the lead actors deliver solid performances. Cage chews up the scenery every time he appears on screen, as mentioned. Awkwafina has good comic timing and and great chemistry with Hoult, who is a disarming straight man as Renfield.

If it structurally and tonally is more focused on the crime story than the horror comedy, it at least has the R-rated violence you’d expect from the latter. Renfield has some pretty intense gore effects: The torn limbs and blood spurts are over-the-top and intensely committed and exactly what horror fans are probably hoping for. But there’s a wrench in the gears, and it’s a big one: McKay’s approach (and/or the trio of editors’ approach) to these scenes is a herky-jerk nightmare. Just hold the camera still for more than 1.5 seconds to soak in the action scenes, my man! The jumpy editing diminishes the visceral impact of the otherwise strong bloody action.

But one trick McKay pulls that I quite like is his use of color. The lighting is really inventive. The film uses almost black-lit, harsh tones to depict Dracula’s dominion of terror, in stark contrast to the softer, pastel hues accompanying Renfield and Rebecca’s attempts to better their city. The clash creates a visually intuitive and distinct layer to the story.

2023 seems to be a year where mid-budget horror films are striving for viral, memetic status. Mainly, I’m thinking of M3GAN and Cocaine Bear. Renfield’s marketing suggests having similar aspirations for the film, though it flopped relative to either of those. But I think Renfield easily the best of this year’s “meme-horrors,” if you count it as such. It embodies the energetic, audacious spirit I’d especially hoped to see in Cocaine Bear with its “horror sidekick therapy” pitch.

Renfield is a solidly entertaining film. It’s quick, well-acted, and intense in the right moments. I laughed several times, though it suffers from an excess of lazy “well, that happened” punchlines. Its focus on its crime narrative and theme of codependency prevents it from fully reaching its horror-comedy potential, as does McKay’s inconsistent work. But Renfield is worth sinking your teeth into, if only to watch Cage Nosferatu-vamping around.

Is It Good?

Good (5/8)

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4 replies on “Renfield (2023)”

“meme-horrors”

I wish you hadn’t connected these. This is a prospect even more terrifying than “elevated horror.” But it’s real, isn’t it?

As for Renfield, I guess I’ll probably see it eventually, but so much of the marketing made it feel like an SNL sketch stretched out to a movie. Cage and Hoult make it enticing, and while “vengeful cop” is perhaps the most out-of-range role imaginable for her, I do root for Lum for… I do not know why I root for Lum. I don’t even love The Farewell, and she for her part, five years later, she won’t even change her stupid YouTube name. She’s like the girl version of Pete Davidson without the “is this guy on drugs? like, right now, on camera?” appeal, and the famouser Davidson got, the less I was interested in him. Dunno why that hasn’t happened with her.

> But it’s real, isn’t it?

Hollywood marketing finally realizing it can sell some tickets if your trailers go viral on TikTok. Probably more than a good review in major newspaper.

It is profoundly impressive that this films takes “Nicolas Cage IS Dracula” and makes it far more than just another Cool Idea that melted into mediocrity or might-have-beens: Mr Cage somehow manages to thread the needle between “Delightful Supervillain” and “The Absolute Worst” in a way that deserves to rank with the very, very Best of Bug Screen Draculas.

The rest of the movie is very entertaining too (One especially liked seeing Awkwafina prove that Count Dracula’s nemesis will ALWAYS be women who WILL NOT tolerate his ****): part of the reason Mr Cage’s performance works so well is that he has Mr Nicholas Hoult matching him every step of the way (In a way that leaves me hoping he’ll play the literary Renfield when he’s old enough for the role).

Anyway, this was a thoroughly entertaining popcorn film and absolutely the Best possible version of “Nic Cage as Dracula!” (Something we could not possibly guarantee and can therefore feel all the more delighted to actually see!).

Glad you liked it, ED! I got a big kick out of Cage’s performance too. I’m surprised it didn’t do better in the box office but I hope a few more people get to see it.

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