We all know the story of Dracula, the vampire count who sucks blood and basically is the origin of the whole vampire fiction… But what do we know about his servant Renfield? Not too much. In Renfield, we get to know a bit more about Dracula’s number one Door-Dasher for blood and also get some of the BEST Nicolas Cage being the freaking meme that we all love him to be. But is it enough to be entertaining? Or should this film be left rotting in a coffin? The answer is… Nicolas cage!
Title: Renfield Production Company: Skybound Entertainment & Giant Wildcat Distributed by: Universal Pictures Directed by: Chris McKay Produced by: Robert Kirkman, David Alpert, Bryan Furst, Sean Furst, & Chris McKay Written by: Robert Kirkman Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Awkwafina, Ben Schwartz, Adrian Martinez, Shohreh Aghdashloo, & Nicolas Cage Based on: Characters by Bram Stoker Release dates: Out Now Running time: 95 minutes Rating: United States: R / Australia: MA15+
In the early 20th century, the Transylvanian vampire Count Dracula meets English lawyer R. M. Renfield. Renfield hopes to broker a deal for some land and after proving to be a useful assistant, he ends up becoming Dracula’s familiar, allowing him to be immortal and gaining super strength and speed when he consumes bugs.
Ninety years later, Renfield has grown weary and exhausted of bringing victims to Dracula as well as the latter’s abuse. They recently had a close call with some vampire hunters who almost killed the count, so the duo moves to New Orleans to recuperate. There, Renfield discovers a 12-step self-help group for persons in co-dependent relationships and plans to hunt out the group’s abusive lovers so he can kill and give them to Dracula to feast on without feeling remorse. On following one to a warehouse with stolen drugs, Renfield is confronted by several criminals before they are all attacked by an assassin hired by the rival Lobo crime family.
After killing the assassin, Renfield unsuccessfully attempts to hunt down the man who hired him, Teddy Lobo, who drives off in a hurry, and a weakened Renfield drags the corpses back to Dracula’s lair in the basement of the dilapidated Charity Hospital. Teddy runs into a sobriety checkpoint that is run by Rebecca Quincy, a second-generation police officer, who arrests Teddy after he hurls bricks of cocaine at her. At the police station, Teddy is released from custody by corrupt police officers, while Rebecca has a confrontation with her sister Kate, an FBI agent.
Dracula tells Renfield that the criminals he has brought as food are insufficient and that the vampire desires the blood of someone pure and innocent instead. Renfield goes to a restaurant to abduct commoners while Rebecca is also led there by clues from the crime scene. The two are caught in an attack on Rebecca’s life that Teddy has been pressured into making so that the fierce reputation of the Lobos will be re-established. Instead, Renfield and Rebecca defend themselves, killing several gang members and leading Teddy to escape.
Teddy’s mother, Bellafrancesca, orders him to hunt down the man who killed her footsoldiers, and he ends up encountering Dracula when Renfield is away. The two agree to form an alliance while Renfield has taken to heart the teachings of his self-help group and decides to make a life for himself apart from his master. Setting up an apartment and changing his attitude to one of helpfulness, Renfield gives a statement to the police to help them try to finally stop the Lobos. However, Dracula learns of Renfield’s betrayal and slaughters the support group members in front of his former minion.
Rebecca appears and finds Renfield surrounded by dead bodies, causing her to arrest him until she is swarmed by corrupt police officers and the Lobos, who also want revenge on Renfield. Rebecca refuses to hand Renfield over, and she barely escapes with him, getting shot in the process. The next morning, Rebecca finds that Renfield has saved her life, and he explains his true origin while confirming that he wants to reform himself. The two fight through a group of corrupt police officers and Lobo henchmen that come to the apartment to kill them and escape, but after attempting to call Kate, Rebecca discovers that she’s been taken hostage by Dracula and Bellafrancesca. She and Renfield stockpile weapons and bugs to storm the Lobos’ headquarters, only to find that Dracula has empowered over a half-dozen gang members, including Teddy, to have all of Renfield’s supernatural abilities.
After a fight, Renfield kills Teddy. Rebecca heads to stop Dracula, only to find that Kate is beaten to near death and only the healing properties of Dracula’s blood can save her, which he will offer in exchange for Rebecca’s loyalty. She tricks Dracula by pretending to agree and then injuring him by exposing him to sunlight, leading to him having a final standoff with Renfield and Rebecca that ends with the two collaborating to capture him in a magical circle.
Renfield and Rebecca beat Dracula into pieces, capture his healing blood, and divide up the bits of his corpse into pieces of concrete that they scatter across the water system, either finally destroying the vampire or at least making it very hard for him to reform his body. Renfield then heals Kate and later resurrects his self-help group friends, feeling empowered to make a new life for himself.
Story Review – Some Vague Spoilers
To be honest, there isn’t really too much to Renfield as a story, unlike what the trailers led us to believe. There isn’t some deep emotional trauma that Renfield has (Well, he does, but it’s not the all-devouring trauma it’s built up as in the trailers), but more of a “stuck in a rut” style mental issue where he regrets his mistake of joining Dracula and having to take care of the Count for hundreds of years. A lot of this comes from Renfield watching humanity change since he first joined Dracula, with more of a focus on the individual than that of master and servant. These sequences, which there are a lot of, are interesting to see from my personal background in Community Service and having the ability to see an abusive relationship for what it is. Dracula and Renfield is an abusive relationship of the worst kind, with Dracula having all the power and Renfield having none.
For most of Renfield, you’re going to sense a familiar theme coming from Nicholas Hoult, who plays Renfield, as he is basically doing the exact same thing (complete with the same outfit at times) as he did in his earlier film: Warm Bodies. Hoult played a Zombie that regained his humanity through… The power of LOVE!… Yep, this Renfield story is just another “love can save you from a bad situation” movie. Renfield spends most of this time either in group sessions for therapy or fawning over Officer Rebecca Quincy, who becomes the love interest in acts 2 & 3. It’s just that this time, unlike Warm Bodies, Renfield is just a bit more interesting and violent than a Zombie is… Not by much though.
The real shiner here is Nicolas Cage, who is at his Cagey best. As Dracula, Cage goes over the top and beyond with how much scenery he is crewing, making all the delicious ham he can along the way. While Cage does spend some time trying to come off as a threat to both Renfield and anyone around him, the way Cage delivers his lines and facial expressions is just 100% Face/Off Cage style, meaning that while he tries to be serious, you just see the goofy and looney from Cage that you want to see in a role like this.
Nicholas Hoult as Renfield
Given the title role in a movie like Renfield is not going to be an easy job. After all, Renfield is a character we know nothing about in the mythology, so to see him be shown as a victim of an abusive relationship is something of an odd choice. If Renfield was only going to be about that side of the character then Hoult is the perfect choice. However, since we need Renfield to have some form of personality, to be funny, to be odd, to be charming in his own way, Hoult dropped the ball here. Hoult’s bland and lifeless acting style (I’ve seen a lot of his work, from Warm Bodies to X-Men, and more) really drains the life out of the film, no pun intended. When Hoult needs to show emotion, he doesn’t, only showing surprise when he does something that his character would have done many times over the centuries.
Nicolas Cage as Dracula
The true star of the film, and rightly so. Nicolas Cage as Dracula is a perfect role for him. From the first moments, we see Cage on screen, replicating some of the scenes from the Bela Lugosi era Dracula films (The guy looks almost like Lugosi’s twin here) where he is dark and mysterious, to the more modern times where Dracula is shown in more of a “lost in time and mind” style, where Cage’s over the top acting really shines, every moment he is on screen makes Renfield something interesting and amazing to watch. If you are a Cage being Cage fan, then this will become one of your favorite roles with him in it.
Awkwafina as Rebecca Quincy I really wanted to like Awkwafina in Renfield, I really did. I’ve seen a lot of her past work in things like Rich Crazy Asians, and Oceans 8, and her voice works in Raya and The Last Dragon. I know she can be really funny when she wants to be, but she didn’t bring any of that into Renfield and much like Nicholas Hoult, she comes off very bland anytime she needs to show emotion. I know she is meant to be a cop with a revenge plot on her mind, and is obsessive about it, but here she comes off as boring and uninteresting… May her next role be much better… *Googles*… She’s Scuttle in The Little Mermaid live-action!? Well, she’s boned.
Ben Schwartz as Tedward “Teddy” Lobo Gotta love these New York-Italian stereotypes! To be honest, Schwartz comes into Renfield with the same over-the-top energy and acting that Nicolas Cage does, and is all the better for it. In a movie where a lot of the principal actors are bland and boring, Schwartz brings great energy into his scenes, the complete opposite of Awkwafina, who plays his nemesis. As much of a stereotype that his character might be, it was good to see someone else in Renfield have fun with the supernatural aspects of the film.
Shohreh Aghdashloo as Bellafrancesca Lobo Oi, another deadpan performance. Luckily Aghdashloo doesn’t have much screen time in Renfield, coming into the movie during Act 2 and leaving just as quickly in Act 3. While she is on screen, Aghdashloo has that villainess screen presence that makes her come off as a threat during the scenes she is in, taking control from just about everyone else in the room. Not many people can do this, even with Nicolas Cage in the same scene, so it was good to see her in this role… If only they did more with her.
Brandon Scott Jones as Mark Jones does a good role here, and I only make mention of it in relation to my own training in similar fields. Being someone whom everyone looks to for leadership and advice during hard times in their lives is not an easy thing to do normally, and would be a lot harder to act out. When Jones is on screen, helping Renfield come to some pretty major conclusions about his relationship with Dracula and how he can remove himself from that relationship and better his life is something that should be shown more in movies dealing with these troubling subjects. Credit to Jones for his acting and the writers for giving him something really relatable to show on the screen.
Ok, normally I would go through all the major and some minor characters in a film, but Renfield has quite a few characters who just don’t need to be in the movie at all in order to get it to work. A couple of standouts are Adrian Martinez as Chris, a traffic cop and Rebecca’s co-worker; and Camille Chen as Kate, an FBI agent / Rebecca’s sister. While these two do something in Renfield, I don’t think they did enough to really warrant a mention as characters. You can read more about what I think about them as characters below, but I did want to say that these two turned in passable performances for characters who did practically nothing for the overall plot.
Renfield is one of those films that just goes about trying to be serious, using topics like abusive relationships as a serious topics while throwing in some absolutely over-the-top comedy to lighten the mood and keep things relaxed and fun. As mentioned a few times now, Nicolas Cage is a delight as Dracula, having a semi-threatening nature to him but at the same time having some of the best comedic moments in the whole film. Renfield and Quincy are trying to keep things deadpan and serious at all times, so having Cage there to bounce some comedy off of really helps the film move along with a few laughs rather than a slog of seriousness.
Even the more “boring” moments in Renfield, like the group therapy scenes, have a real insight into the mental manipulation that can come along with one-sided relationships like the one between Dracula and Renfield, and it also raises some points about how to deal with such situations that I hope will resonate with anyone who is dealing with an abusive relationship. Remember, YOU have the power to change things, yes it will be hard, but you can change things to make your life better.
Weird transition: The violence in Renfield is a delight to behold, using some real old-school practical effects mixed in with excessive CGI when needed to put a point along. I’ve put an image below of Renfield punching a guy’s head off with one punch. It’s an awesome moment that was shocking in a good way because the overuse of CGI blood just makes the moment so much more epic. You’ll see that in other fight scenes too, including one where Renfield literally “rips the arm off a guy and beats him with the wet end”. For those of you who like over-the-top and crazy fight scenes, Renfield has you covered.
What didn’t work
Outside of Hoult’s acting, which I mentioned above, there isn’t much to gripe about when it comes to Renfield. But if pushed, I would say that there are a few characters who really didn’t need to be included in the film in order to get the story across. Characters like James Moses Black as Captain Browning, the corrupt Police Captain who is only there to reveal that most of the force is on the take from the mob villainess. The same goes for Quincy’s partner, who is just there to help with the reveal. Neither of them needed to be a part of the film to get the point across. You also had a sub-plot involving Rebecca and her sister, Kate, which revolved around Rebecca wanting to get revenge against the mobster who killed their Father, with Kate being almost uninterested in the matter and becoming pretty much pointless in the long run. You had a few characters who could have been removed and saved a few minutes of running time that would have been better spent on giving Cage more time to mug on camera or something.
Renfield works best when its comedy is on display, a lot of that going to the efforts of Nicolas Cage. There is an element of Renfield that is meant to be seen as serious and complex, but that is not what we signed on for. When things are over the top, then the movie works. But when it slows things down to focus on Renfield, it really slows down thanks to Nicholas Hoult’s very bland acting. I know Renfield was a character who didn’t have much personality, but this was a chance to give him one, and they failed at that. However, when you have to go up against Nicolas Cage going full Nicolas Cage mode, you’re always going to come off as bland and second-rate. While this one is a “maybe” on cinema money (The film still hasn’t seen a cinema release in Australia, not till May 25th) but it is well worth your streaming money. Dig your fangs into Renfield when you want something fun and a bit out there, it won’t hurt… I promise
Renfield works best when the people involved are going over the top and playing more with the fun and weird sides of vampire mythology. However, the main crew, outside of Cage, are just so bland and boring as both characters and actors that it slows the film down at times when it really didn’t need it. That being said, Renfield is still a great and funny film when you watch it for Nicolas Cage at his Cagey Best.
Nicolas Cage at his hammy best
Over-the-top gore for no reason
Great supernatural fight scenes
Nicholas Hoult and Awkwafina’s performances
Too many unneeded characters thrown in for no reason