Renfield (2023)

Over the past few years or so, the horror genre has seen a resurgence, providing a wide variety of films and unique stories within the genre and some even branching off into their respective sub genres to reach an even wider audience. But even with the number of new horror films that have brought the genre into the 21st century, it’s the classic characters resurrected from the depths of their crypts and their tried-and-true narratives that still provide a main draw despite the numbers of iterations and various takes from creators in recent memory.

Recently, vampires and their human servants / familiars have become the obsession within the hybrid genre of horror comedy. Some like What We Do in the Shadows both the feature film and continued series find the perfect blend of the two, knowing exactly who their audience is and charging headfirst into their dense mythology. And then there’s stories like Renfield. Based on the famed familiar / servant for the king of Vampires Dracula (Nicolas Cage) as created by Bram Stoker, Renfield suffers from an identity crisis. Labeled as a horror comedy, the two genres struggle to gain momentum over the other throughout the course of the 93-minute runtime, leaving a fog of confusion for who the intended audience is.

Playing Dracula, Cage takes on a supporting role as the title of the film implies. Given a modern-day twist, Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) is suffering from a co-dependent relationship with his ageless master. The two have taken up a residency in an abandoned hospital in New Orleans where Renfield completes tasks during the day and finds unsuspecting victims by night. Suffering deeply, Renfield attends a support group of other dependent people to at first find victims for Dracula but with a bit of soul searching, Renfield realizes he is just like those who attend the support group – living in an unhealthy relationship with the master of darkness.

From a story conceived by Robert Kirkman and a screenplay written by Ryan Ridley, director Chris McKay gives Renfield an uneven balance to it. Filled to the brim with stylistic violence and gore intercut with out of place humor and a feeble attempt at grounding its characters, the plot and sub-plots stay surface level, never amounting to much beyond that. On his hunt, Renfield comes across a fearless and headstrong cop named Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina), currently serving traffic duty in the hopes of living up to her father’s legacy to take down Teddy Lobo (Ben Schwartz) and the Lobo crime family.

There is something unsettling with Teddy and his look throughout. Maybe it’s the fact that Ben Schwartz cannot pull off chest, hand and next tattoos or maybe it’s the casting itself. The Sonic voice actor though committing to the role is out of place like most of Renfield. The character only serves as a distraction for Renfield in his quest to rid himself of Dracula however to Rebecca, Lobo is her mission in a shallow subplot. Most of Renfield is spread too thin to get itself safely to first base. Though it has its moments of what the potential can be, ultimately the bad outweighs the little good that comes out at night stalking unsuspecting prey of New Orleans.

What good there is involves the cast. They all fully commit to this world where the realization of Dracula being a part of this world is not second guessed. Outside of the impending doom, not one person in the well casted support group questions the possibility of a vampire walking among them. With what little time we have with the support group, the cast all hit their comedic timing especial Mark (Brandon Scott Jones). Brandon’s reaction timing as Renfield spills his guts (emotionally) is spot on to the comedic potential but outside of that, most of the comedy gets put in the rearview for the abundance of gore.

What other creatures have these people encountered. The set-up is there but Ridley’s screenplay fails to follow through on its execution. If Dracula exists, could werewolves or Frankenstein’s Monster exist? Surely this isn’t the same universe as 2020’s The Invisible Man. Clearly there is a discrepancy in style – Hoult’s Renfield is a master in combat due to the consuming of various insets but what is even more jarring is how adept Rebecca is at fighting, marksmanship and how casual she is in facing off against Cage’s Dracula. Like she’s done it before, It’s just another day in the life for her.

For all of its campy and disjointed humor (a welcome mat that displays “come on in” fall in line with how funny vampire humor can be given the right script), Cage, with what little screentime he does have, leans fully into becoming Dracula – a role that screams Nic Cage and he delivers every line baring his sharp teeth, pale face and slicked back hair perfectly.

Sometimes, It’s good to watch a bad movie. A movie that has the ability to be not fully paid attention to, but still have a full grasp of whats going on within the first 5 minutes. A movie that does not remotely fit in to its horror genre but boats a popcorn coma from a turned off brain and checked expectations at the door. Whatever substance is added gets overshadowed by its larger-than-life villain putting all its effort to spreading out the gallons of fake blood and guts. Though it has its rare moments of clarity and potential, Renfield screams a fun time at the theater, but its dull fangs will barely leave a scratch in any vein it sinks into.

Screenplay By: Ryan Ridley

Story By: Robert Kirkman

Directed By: Chris McKay

Music By: Marco Beltrami

Cinematography: Mitchell Amundsen

Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Nicolas Cage, Awkwafina, Ben Schwartz, Adrian Martinez, Shohreh Aghdashloo

Edited By: Ryan Folsey, Giancarlo Ganziano & Zene Baker

Release Date: April 14, 2023

Running Time: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 60%

Based On: Characters by Bram Stoker

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

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