Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | April 13th, 2023
Renfield (Chris McKay, 2023) 2½ out of 4 stars.
A fast-paced mix of high-octane violence and raucous comedy, Renfield may not be perfect but it does mostly entertain, offering a great starring vehicle for Nicholas Hoult (The Menu) in the title role. With strong support from a cast that includes Nicolas Cage (Prisoners of the Ghostland), Awkwafina (The Farewell), Ben Schwartz (Sonic the Hedgehog 2), and Shohreh Aghdashloo (The Cuban), the movie zips along from scene to bloody scene, spurting the red stuff as vampire flicks are wont to. And though many of the jokes are predictable and the ultimate structure hardly original, there’s enough fun material to make for a frequently satisfying ride.
The opening finds our main character (Hoult) in a group-therapy session for people in toxic relationships (heavily featured in the trailer). As Count Dracula’s “familiar” (a supernaturally powered assistant), it is Renfield’s job to procure fresh meat for his master (Cage). In a jocular montage in which Hoult and Cage are spliced into the 1931 Universal Dracula film, we follow the duo through time, learning along the way how their dynamic works and why, in the present, Dracula is convalescing from a previous near-death experience by sunlight. Now in New Orleans, Louisiana, they feed on those that Renfield can easily capture.
Actually, Dracula feeds on them. Renfield gathers his power from eating bugs, with no taste for human flesh, himself. And why is he in the therapy sessions? So he can feel better about his kills, hunting down the bullying partners of those he meets in the group (think Dexter, channeling his evil into a kind of good). While in the meetings, however, Renfield begins to question his long association with Dracula and wonder if he could free himself from co-dependency.
Just as he reluctantly plans to kill some real innocents (the best kind of blood, says Dracula) in a bar, he witnesses Awkwafina’s Rebecca, a local police officer, standing up to Teddy Lobo (Schwartz), the scion of a gangster family. Inspired, he gives up his more nefarious task and defends her, instead, in a sequence both gruesome and hilarious (as are all the big such beats). From that point on, the plot follows their overlapping central conflict: his to free himself of Dracula, and hers to defeat the crime syndicate and overcome corruption in the police force.
Expect much arterial spray and other gore, all of it played for laughs. If you’re a gamer, there’s nothing to shock here. If you’re a cinephile, perhaps you will want more. But the playful way the movie takes on vampire lore is occasionally inspired, and the actors are more than up to the campy tone (Cage, especially, as always). In short, this comic splatterfest is enjoyable enough, and before the summer movie season begins its rollout next month, it should whet one’s appetite, whether for action, comedy, both … or hemoglobin.