Renfield (2023) Review

The familiar scenario of a long-suffering employee who has to put up with a bad boss is the kind of story that most of us can relate to at the workplace. But what if your boss happens to be Dracula (Nicolas Cage)? That’s the dilemma Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) is facing as a servant. It’s not like any regular job where he can simply quit and move on with his life. The least thing Renfield can do is join a therapy group that deals with toxic relationships led by therapist Mark (Brandon Scott Jones).

Things get complicated when Renfield is caught in the middle of a crossfire between a vengeful cop Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina) and the notorious mobster, Teddy Lobo (Ben Schwartz). The latter turns out to be responsible for the murder of Rebecca’s cop father, who was killed in the line of duty.

When I first saw the Renfield trailer, I didn’t expect much from it other than it’s good to see Nicolas Cage, who’s been dominating the indie market these days in a major studio picture. But upon watching the movie in its entirety, director Chris McKay (2017’s The Lego Batman Movie, 2021’s The Tomorrow War) clearly has a field day working on Ryan Ridley’s screenplay that blends different genres into a single package. It works well as a mix of workplace comedy and classic horror while poking fun at the vampire tropes and some of the past like-minded films, notably Tod Browning’s 1931 classic Dracula. We even get a black-and-white montage of Nicolas Cage’s Dracula emulating the late Bela Lugosi role and Nicholas Hoult channelling Dwight Frye’s Reinfeld, complete with expressionistic lighting and shadows.

Nicholas Hoult and Awkwafina in "Renfield" (2023)

The story of a toxic relationship between Renfield and Dracula benefits from Nicholas Hoult’s surprisingly sympathetic performance and Nicolas Cage’s gleefully over-the-top supporting turn. The latter made the otherwise oft-played role uniquely his own — a sadistic, narcissistic and condescending Dracula. Cage certainly steals the show each time he’s onscreen. This isn’t the first time Cage plays a bloodsucking vampire, given his past experience in the 1988 comedy-horror cult classic Vampire’s Kiss featuring one of his most unhinged performances ever acted in his decades-long illustrious career. That was 35 years ago but it’s worth checking out if you haven’t already. Hoult’s co-star, Awkwafina delivers a decent supporting turn as Rebecca with her trademark wisecracking quips. The buddy chemistry between them is equally worth mentioning as well.

Renfield happens to be ultra-violent and action-packed too. Heads rolling, limbs flying, guts spilling, you name it — it’s like a free flow of extreme gore and violence and McKay doesn’t shy away from executing them as graphically as possible. The action is thrillingly staged to both visceral and stylish effects as we see Renfield dispatching the bad guys using his super strength like nobody’s business after swallowing a bug. Imagine a John Wick movie but done in a highly kinetic gory-horror style and you’ll get the idea here. Kudos also go to McKay for incorporating mostly amazing practical and CG effects as well as Christien Tinsley’s makeup on Cage’s various states of transformation as Dracula.

Renfield also attempts to stretch more by including a crime drama revolving around Lobo’s mob-boss mother Bellafrancesca (Shohreh Aghdashloo) taking control of the drug business in New Orleans. There’s a subplot about police corruption with Awkwafina’s Rebecca seemingly playing the female version of Al Pacino’s Frank Serpico in Serpico. Then, there’s another one involving the potential romance between Renfield and Rebecca. It was an overall mixed result while not every joke hits the mark while the movie’s overreliance on glaring CGI blood partially reminds me of the first Blade in 1998.

Still, Renfield has enough brutal fun of genre mishmash to keep one occupied throughout its 93-minute length.