Image via Universal Pictures
Nicolas Cage as Dracula was always the selling point for Renfield. Donning the iconic cape, resembling the classic Bela Lugosi iteration, and emphasizing his bloodthirsty canines, the actor outshines the character in the comedic and light-hearted spiritual successor to Universal’s most prized monster movie.
Cage’s wild gaze, backed by a perfectly corresponding makeup (in Dracula’s both grotesque-looking & flamboyant attires), is further highlighted by a hint of an accent that the character owes to his Transylvanian roots – all of it making the maverick actor steal the show throughout. An iconic figure , previously played by the likes of Lugosi and Gary Oldman, gets a new life with an equally iconic actor, who in Renfield’s comedic setting, brings a profoundly fresh and alternative take to his portrayal.
However, Cage here is only in a supporting capacity. Instead, Renfield is about the titular familiar – Robert Montgeau Renfield, played by Nicholas Hoult. Sitting alongside a support group in his worn-out overcoat and poorly-done hair, reminiscing about his life as Count’s assistant. In the role, Hoult serves an iteration far more assertive, unlike previous maniacal and insane versions. With a refined British accent, his Renfield is attractive, entertaining, and dashingly brutal when a fist fight arises. Hoult’s innocent expressions, combined with exploding action and occasional laughs, also make for a delightful performance.
Hoult and Cage’s casting call is a killer combination for a Dracula movie. However, in a film that measures well on acting talent, the writing itself fails to impress. Ryan Ridley and Robert Kirkman have penned a screenplay that may seem compelling for a comedy horror, but still heavily downplays the dynamic between its two leads, which should have been more substantial.
The film’s core covers Renfield’s co-dependent relationship with his boss, which he is visibly but unknowingly sick of. It’s a funny idea, as his servitude goes beyond measure in the novel, but the movie undermines a potentially great story to the point it begins to seem directionless by the final act begins to unravel.
Offering Renfield a more humanized arc forms a strong premise, while the combination of slapstick action and amusing ludicrousness gives it an edge to become something great, but Renfield falls short of its inspirations It doesn’t give Hoult’s portrayal a solid background to make his epiphany convincing, further diminishing the impact of his performance, with director Chris McKay’s attempts to give the titular character center stage in his own feature seeming deliberate and forced as a result.
Renfield does make for a visual treat if you’re willing to ignore the exaggerated bloodbath that comes with every limb the dynamic duo rips from various bodies. The action is gory, and choreographed to leave gasps of humorous giggles, even full-blown laughter. The film doesn’t evenly balance the horror and comedy, which may seem like a tonal mismatch, but with Hoult and Cage helming the cast, much of it is neutralized.
Awkwafina, playing a street-smart cop, is quirky and funny yet has no room for nonsense. She’s not exactly miscast here, but the script needs to give her more to impact the narrative profoundly. Nor do she and Hoult develop the chemistry that’s intended, as seen in their quieter moments, as well as Renfield’s instant liking of her. The two bond over action, which explains their relationship moving forward. Still, there could have been more than just some peculiar gazing and conversations. On the other hand, Ben Schwartz is – although obnoxiously over-the-top – a fantastic addition to Renfield’s outlandish gory humor.
That’s the thing about Renfield. The Hoult-Cage duo works, but the supporting cast doesn’t. And while the story doesn’t work at its best, the style largely strengthens the experience. Regarding aesthetics, the movie adds excellent detail and color to the production design and set styling, while the costumes subtly define Dracula and Renfield at different moments throughout; the attire is beautiful and eye-catching, whether it’s Cage’s classic Gothic cape or Renfield’s stylish, bright, and radiant sweaters.
Everything from humor and comedy to horror and action are mixed in, and while no ingredients are excessive in Renfield, they aren’t quite balanced, either. Too many original subplots are blended into a classic adaptation, and the end product can’t maintain its path while rowing so many boats together. You’ll be happy and entertained, but given the presence of an outstanding cast and beloved characters, you’ll desire something more. And though you might not be back for the second screening in theaters, you’ll probably end up watching it again once it gets to streaming, especially for Nicolas Cage.
A mixed bag of elements, Renfield resonates with eclectic vibes. There was a potential for a huge hit here, but there’s just occasional intrigue and leisure that relaxes the audience to a considerable extent without coming close to greatness.
The Count outshines his titular familiar in ‘Renfield,’ a comedic and light-hearted take on Universal’s famous classic monster.
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