Renfield Review: The Nicks deliver a decent horror comedy

It has been a while since Hollywood dug up the half-alive body of Dracula for a movie, but here we are again in the form of Renfield, a unique horror / comedy / gorefest / superhero film.

That may seem like a strange mix, but give one of the trailers on this page a watch and you’ll see what the hell we’re talking about. The two Nicks are the principle characters here with Nicolas Cage as Dracula himself and Nicholas Hoult as the titular Renfield, Dracula’s familiar who wants to get out from under the thumb of the Count.

It’s Renfield who brings the superhero edge to this movie because, as Dracula’s familiar, he has a portion of his power granted by eating bugs AKA a weaker lifeform compared to drinking the blood of humans. This grants him superhuman speed, strength and stamina to do Dracula’s bidding.

Helping Renfield is Awkwafina playing a beat cop who really is the third main character of the movie. We’re not sure why she hasn’t received as much exposure as the two Nicks in the advertising for this movie but she has just about as much screen time as Hoult and is in the movie more than Cage.

The last standout character is fan favourite and Sonic himself, Ben Schwartz, as a bozo criminal named Teddy Lobo. Lobo is the heir to a crime syndicate who acts as the bridge between the horrors escapes of Renfield and the crime fighting of the police.

The good news here is that the cast knocks it out of the park with this silly setup. The bad news is that the writing doesn’t do them the justice they really need, but we’ll get back to that. Cage puts in a fantastic showing as a more classical Dracula with theatrics, a big cape and a lot of effective makeup and effects.

Cage is a bit of a coin flip when it comes to performances, but his unique brand of hamming it up is the perfect choice for a comedy version of Dracula. The presence of Nicolas freaking Cage elevates this movie and we couldn’t see it working without him.

Unfortunately the main character in Hoult’s Renfield and Awkwafina’s cop don’t fair as well, not because of a lack of acting chops, but because of the writing and overall script.

Renfield is supposed to be be played as a comedic, sympathetic character, framed by his attendance of a co-dependency class, but he simply comes across as a bit of an idiot that is hard to root for. The writers want the audience to sympathise with Renfield but then they also want us to believe he’s so naïve that he doesn’t realise that working for a guy referred to as “The Prince of Darkness” kinda makes you a bad guy. We’re also not a fan of the soft and needy inflection that Hoult imparts into Renfield, which should have at least eased up as the movie went on.

This is made worse as more of his character is revealed, such as the fact that he was at least competent enough at one point to be a lawyer, and he has been working for Dracula for many decades.

The script also wants us to believe that what gets Renfield to finally break good is Awkwafina and her unbreakable good nature and willingness to do the right thing. That’s fine and it’s now a vampire staple for a modern love interest to shake up the vampire status quo, but this character has no real arc in the movie and it’s just Awkwafina quipping for 90 minutes. We had fun with the quipping and Awkwafina is always a joy to watch, but again the writing wasn’t there to make us really care.

Schwartz as a dumb criminal who gets tangled up in the vampire mess with the others also brought comedy and fun to the whole affair, even if he didn’t get as much time on screen as we would have liked.

If that all seems a bit rushed, well that’s how the entire movie feels. In an era where run times seem to be getting longer and longer, Renfield comes in with a brisk 90 minutes or so which we appreciate, but this is a movie that desperately needed another script draft and maybe a further 30 minutes to properly flesh everything out.

When the credits roll you feel like Renfield just didn’t fully deliver on its crazy premise and promise of a rollercoaster drenched in blood and guts. This seems like a movie that could have been an instant classic with a deft hand and a bit more work on the script, but it’s missing an X factor, that little extra something to push it over the edge into greatness, and it just doesn’t have that.

Where the writing falls down the effects thankfully do not. There’s a lot of great design for both costumes and sets, even if it’s exactly what you expect when you hear “Dracula”.

Everything has a pulpy sheen to it, such as the fact that the copious amounts of blood is made to not look highly realistic, but instead slightly fake, like spaghetti sauce. This helps when every character seems to have 500 hundred percent more blood than a regular human and ready to pop like a balloon in an action sequence.

The makeup for Dracula is also worth praise, as Cage looks terrifying and properly intimidating, as the lord of vampires should.

That being said it’s clear that some corners needed to be cut. A great example is the Dracula classic of turning into a flock of bats. That happens maybe three or four times in this movie, but we the audience only see it properly once, with the other instances happening offscreen. This is obviously to save money on the effects, and we can’t help but feel like that cost cutting affected the overall “almost there!” feeling we had by the time the movie is over.

Renfield has a fantastic cast, a killer idea and fun effects, and we can definitely see people getting exactly what the trailers promise from the full movie. More people, we believe, will feel that it fell short of delivering with a weak script and untapped potential.



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