Toxic relationships. We recognise it in others, have heard of it and some of us might actually have experienced it, from partners who gaslight us, narcissistic parents who raised us, or employers who don’t make you feel appreciated enough. Now imagine being a part of one for all eternity and you get Renfield.
It’s just that his other half is Count Dracula. Yeah, that sucker.
R. M. Renfield isn’t a new character though, as he’s in Bram Stoker’s original 1897 Gothic horror novel. That devoted but deranged servant and familiar who helps Dracula in turning Mina Harker into a vampire, who works for nothing but a constant supply of insects to feed on, and the promise of immortality?
Renfield is director Chris McKay’s (The Lego Batman Movie) take on this minor but also key character, with Nicholas Hoult as Renfield and Nicolas Cage as Count Dracula. Since we all know the story that has been told countless times over, Renfield strays away from gothic retellings and instead applies a brand new flavour – horror-comedy with a dash of romance blended with some gory action.
For this horror/comedy/romance/action flick set in modern times, Renfield has wised up, and the codependent familiar of the best-known undead creature finds himself attending a support group for adults in toxic relationships. Through the support group, he hopes to one day be free of Dracula, and stop the evil ageless vampire from achieving world domination. He later finds himself in the middle of a war between a prominent crime family and a cop, Rebecca (Awkwafina) and when combined with his healing journey and desire to be a hero, as well as his budding romance with Rebecca, all get mixed up and become the very ingredients needed to aid Dracula to rise to full power.
There are two main relationships here that take the spotlight. Dracula and Renfield’s, and Rebecca and Renfield’s. Damn two-timer. Dracula and Renfield’s relationship is abusive in every way, and as bad as it sounds, we wanted to see more of it. Hoult and Cage have such wonderful chemistry that we wished they took the screen together more often than they actually did. Hoult is sweet, innocent, and charming as Renfield, whilst Cage is showy, maniacal, and bat shit crazy, and don’t we all know relationships like that?
Their relationship delves into how parasitic and toxic a codependent relationship with a narcissistic person can be and is somewhat remnant of the relationship displayed in Stoker’s novel, but with the addition of some Cage sarcasm here and there.
Then we have the budding relationship between Renfield and Rebecca. Awkwafina’s Rebecca is a beat cop trying to take down a crime family and an entire police department for their lack of support and incompetence. She is impulsive, loud, and distrusting but takes to the quiet and honest Renfield very quickly. The movie hints at a possible romance, with Renfield buying her flowers and Rebecca putting down her heavy walls eventually, but their chemistry comes off more platonic or buddy-like than romantic.
These relationships are explored rather comically and while it doesn’t make light of abuse, everything is presented in an easy, digestible, light, and modern way, showing what healthy and unhealthy relationships look like with Rebecca and Dracula. Most of the comedy also comes from the support group scenes that Renfield is seen attending frequently, as he heals from his relationship with Dracula.
But romance and comedy alone are not enough to sustain this 90 minutes movie – and that’s where action and horror come into play. Renfield and Rebecca work together to take down the crime family led by Vanessa (Caroline Williams) and her son Teddy Lobo (Ben Schwartz). From car chases to hitmen sent to kill whoever stands in their way, Renfield and Rebecca have got their work cut out for them as they try to keep the streets of New Orleans clean. The memorable action sequence from this is when an entire unit of assassins is sent to Renfield’s apartment, where the handcuffed hero quite literally chops everyone into pieces as he tries to escape the apartment building. That’s multiple levels of fights and a whole lot of blood.
Renfield is bloody. Rated M18, Renfield will definitely shock viewers who are expecting a simple vampire action-comedy. McKay is generous with the CGI and fake blood, you can expect every corner of the screen to be tinted red whenever someone is sent to stop Renfield from meddling with Lobo’s plans. Hoult may not be the most built fighter, but he moves smoothly enough that it takes you aback when he kills someone with a silver platter or a free pen he retrieved from a diner.
Body parts are thrown around like candy during Halloween and in case you’ve forgotten, we still have Dracula roaming around the streets looking for a school bus of cheerleaders and a pack of nuns to feast on. The more innocent the victims, the more powerful Dracula becomes. Renfield tries to feed his master with some of the wrongdoers he killed the day prior, but Dracula’s thirst is insatiable and it was only a matter of time before he goes on his own blood-sucking rampage. This isn’t Twilight and we are talking about method actor Cage so when Dracula is out for blood, he does not hold back from wringing necks and flinging innocent people around just for the fun of it.
Renfield is a bloody fun watch and starts a brand new chapter for Universal’s much-maligned Dark Universe legacy. Thus far, the studio’s attempts to reboot their famed monster movies have not seen much success, with 2017’s The Mummy and 2020’s The Invisible Man, but Renfield might just change that because it knows what it is, and it’s not plain horror. The Invisible Man was a decent remake but didn’t deliver on the wow factor but Renfield is fresh, eclectic and brings an electrical tone to this universe of classic horror and monsters, leaving us hopeful that maybe the Dark Universe can be rebooted.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Renfield takes Bram Stoker’s popular characters Renfield and Dracula out of the gothic pages and pictures and into an eclectic action-comedy. A bloody fun watch, Nicolas Cage and Nicholas Hoult’s vampire-familiar relationship is to die laughing for.
Story - 7/10
Direction - 8/10
Characterisation - 7/10
Geek Satisfaction - 8/10