Review: ‘Renfield’

Nicolas Cage Sinks His Teeth Into Gory, Campy Horror-Comedy

If you’re a fan of the wildly over-the-top, idiosyncratic performances of Nicolas Cage, and if you’re not you’re no friend of mine, then you can largely thank 1988’s Vampire’s Kiss for it. That film saw Cage as a regular dude who thought he was an immortal vampire, but in the new horror-comedy Renfield he actually gets to play the lord of all vampires, Dracula. Look, the casting is so perfect it’s a wonder it was never done before. In fact, it’s so perfect that it threatens to be dissatisfying because our expectations are so high. But this is Nic Cage, and his Dracula is pure campy heaven.

The story is what it is. Nicholas Hoult, the Warm Bodies actor who seems drawn to this sort of horror-comedy, plays Dracula’s manservant, Renfield. He’s quite a bit different from the classic version. In this one, he’s an English dope who gets superpowers from eating bugs. I mean, like Marvel-style superpowers. After his boss is roasted to a crisp by any of the legions of enemies he faces on a regular basis, Renfield carries him to convalesce in the shadiest corner of New Orleans.

There’s a clever hook to this, though, as Renfield finds himself in a support group for people looking to get out of toxic relationships. Being Dracula’s familiar certainly qualifies. Renfield also uses this place as a one-stop-shop for potential victims for his master. However, it also turns out to be an avenue of possible salvation, as Renfield finds himself protecting innocents from the violent Lobo crime family, embodied by an oafish Ben Schwartz and the regal Shohreh Aghdashloo as the mafia matriarch. More specifically, Renfield has jumped to the aid of fearless, meaning rebellious, cop Rebecca Quincy, played by Awkwafina. Rebecca has a longstanding beef with the Lobos, and Renfield gets dragged into the middle of it by…well, slicing through their enforcers like a hot fang through warm human flesh.

While this is obviously not meant to be a true horror, Renfield is so grisly that Dracula might drown in the literal geysers of blood. The tone is schlocky and silly, the gore is insanely over-the-top as limbs are ripped, heads stomped and exploded with reckless abandon. The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman gets a story credit and there isn’t this much violence in an entire season of that hit zombie show.

Renfield is better for being such a ridiculous splatter fest. It provides the perfect platform for Cage to go wild, even channeling the great Bela Lugosi from the classic 1931 Dracula. He sweeps through some ridiculous dialog with theatrical flourish, like he wandered in from an Anne Rice novel and onto the wrong movie set.  There’s a great scene where he demands “the blood of cheerleaders”, only to squabble with Renfield over whether it’s a sexual thing. Cage is so good that it’s disappointing he’s just a supporting character. Renfield himself isn’t terribly interesting, and his relationship with Rebecca only enjoyable for the WWE levels of tag team mayhem they unleash on the Lobo goons. Neither Hoult or Awkwafina are bad, but neither character they play is much of a stretch. This is very much an aggressive sidekick-type role for her, and awkward but endearing straight-man part for him.

If you’re coming to Renfield, you’re coming to see Cage as the lord of all bloodsuckers, and he doesn’t disappoint. Cage is having another career resurgence. He seems to go through these every few years or so, when the stars perfectly align. Cage’s Dracula is one of those stars, and let’s hope the film does well enough that maybe he can don the

Renfield opens in theaters on April 14th.

Travis Hopson
Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.
review-renfieldIf you're a fan of the wildly over-the-top, idiosyncratic performances of Nicolas Cage, and if you're not you're no friend of mine, then you can largely thank 1988's Vampire's Kiss for it. That film saw Cage as a regular dude who thought he was an immortal...