Renfield: Nicolas Cage vs. Nicholas

Will SorgMovies Guy

This last weekend saw the theatrical opening of Renfield. The horror action-comedy takes the characters of Dracula and his servant R.M. Renfield and recontextualizes them in the modern day as a toxic, codependent relationship. The film is a flop; it is being absolutely ripped to pieces at the box office. It was released only a few weeks after Super Mario Bros. Movie, which is dominating against every other movie this month. Critically, Renfield is getting no fanfare with the general consensus being that it’s completely fine for what it is. I would say that much of the movie’s commercial failure is due to its poor timing, but the film really has a lot of strange issues. Renfield is trying to be four different movies at once and it rarely fully commits to being just one of them.

 The film is at its core a split idea. It follows the title character as he visits a codependents anonymous support group, gathers victims for Dracula to feed off of, and is generally focused on Renfield’s attempts to escape from Dracula’s horrible treatment. However, on top of that, there is a side plot with a police officer named Rebecca: a character so unmemorable that I just had to look up her name. Rebecca is played by Awkwafina and, while the character makes sense within the story as she serves as a way to give Renfield an ally to work and talk within the movie, I have to admit that I found Awkwafina’s portrayal of the character to be agonizingly dull. Along with Rebecca is a comically overplayed plotline about an organized crime family that has control of the entire city – including the police department. They serve as ‘easy bad guys’  to give Renfield and Rebecca people to fight. Ben Schwartz plays Tedward, the son of the mob boss and one of the funniest actors in the cast. His appearance makes every scene a little brighter as his goofy demeanor plays off of the rest of the characters perfectly. So, while I would say Awkwafina is the only actor who drags the movie down for me, the general construction of the film is hard to fully appreciate. It tries to be simultaneously a lighthearted romp, an over-the-top gory action film, a film with emotional character payoffs, a horror film, a statement on abusive relationships, and an adult comedy. While it definitely can balance some of those aspects perfectly, it falters under too many ideas quite frequently. It’s trying to do a million things ‘okay’ instead of focusing on a couple and doing them perfectly. 

However, the one thing the film definitely nails is the incredibly important roles of Renfield and Dracula. Nicholas Hoult, who plays Renfield, is an actor who has consistently been one of the best parts of whatever movie he is cast in. The man is perfect to play the subservient Renfield and a lot of the movie is elevated due to his pitch-perfect performance. Hoult hits exactly the right emotions at the perfect time and really puts a lot of heart into the role. Meanwhile, Dracula is portrayed by one of the most versatile and entertaining actors of all time: Nicolas Cage. Cage steps into the shoes of one of the most iconic horror characters and proceeds to fill those shoes quicker than anyone ever could. Cage’s Dracula is a malevolent, gleefully grotesque creature; the man has a talent for portraying off-the-wall characters but what impresses me the most is the way he controls the character. Cage takes what could be expected to be a completely ridiculous version of Dracula and plays him mostly serious. Of course, he flavors the Prince of Darkness with his classic strange affectations but the character is genuinely menacing at times and Cage’s performance is clearly done with a great deal of reverence for the character and its history. 

You won’t be missing out on too much if you don’t go to see this film. It’s got some great action and a ton of corny, over-the-top gore. There are some truly solid jokes surrounded by a lot of groan-worthy ones and there’s never really a point where the film feels truly incredible. However, if you do go to Renfield,  there’s certainly a good chance that you might walk away from it with a smile and a newfound appreciation for the weird little guy who works for Dracula. 

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