renfield movie review

Renfield/Universal Pictures

‘Renfield’: Nic Cage and Nicholas Hoult let loose in this unashamedly silly Dracula spinoff

Nic Cage as Dracula, in a lightweight comedy about abusive relationships? If it works, it works!

 

Gavia Baker-Whitelaw

Internet Culture

Renfield‘s entertainment value lives and dies on its inspired casting choices, pairing vintage freakazoid Nicolas Cage with underrated leading man Nicholas Hoult—an actor who combines Hugh Grant handsomeness with a talent for creeping, cringing, and generally behaving like a horrible little weirdo. (The fact that Hoult will follow this up by acting opposite a different Dracula in Robert EggersNosferatu? Delightful.)

Renfield
Three and a half stars


Release Date: April 14, 2023
Director: Chris McKay
Release: Theatrical
Dracula’s long-suffering servant Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) attempts to escape his controlling, narcissistic boss (Nic Cage) in this gory yet low-stakes horror-comedy.

Loosely riffing on the classic Dracula mythos, Hoult plays the Count’s servant Renfield, positioned here as the victim of a narcissistic, abusive tormenter. Controlled and belittled for decades, Renfield obeys Dracula’s every whim, fetching fresh victims in exchange for eternal life. He also gains vampiric strength whenever he eats a bug, which becomes useful during the acrobatic, blood-soaked fight scenes.

In present-day New Orleans, Renfield stumbles upon a way out of this toxic lifestyle: A support group for people in codependent relationships. Grasping at this escape route, he finds unexpected inspiration in the form of strong-willed, foul-mouthed traffic cop Rebecca (Awkwafina), while getting caught up in an absurd crime plot involving a mob boss (Shohreh Aghdashloo) and her incompetent son (Ben Schwartz, playing to type).

Directed by Chris McKay and written by Ryan Ridley, Renfield offers up the slightly strange combination of a broad comedic tone (it even opens with a record-scratch/freeze-frame voiceover!) and a story that centers on an abusive relationship. Obviously, the vampire/thrall dynamic has always explored this topic in one way or another, but Renfield portrays Dracula’s power in more direct, non-allegorical terms.

Isolating Renfield from potential allies, Dracula destroys his self-esteem and at one point literally employs DARVO (“Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender”) mid-argument; a textbook strategy for narcissistic abusers. “I’m the real victim here!” he snarls through a mouthful of fangs, after Renfield tries to move out of his blood-spattered lair. It’s pretty on-the-nose, but then again, maybe it needs to be.

Running a neat 93 minutes, Renfield is less substantial than Nic Cage’s other great vampire comedy Vampire’s Kiss. It’s easy viewing, which isn’t something you can say of many films involving this much gore and severed limbs. Opting for a cartoonish tone, McKay drops in enough fun little details (Dracula sipping a blood martini garnished with eyeballs; Renfield rebelling against his gothic master by donning a pastel sweater) to make an old story feel relatively fresh. And, of course, Cage knows precisely what to do with this kind of material.

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