“Renfield” – A Violent, Gory, Hilarious Take on Toxic Relationships [Review]

Many of us can relate to having a terrible job or working in a toxic/hostile environment with a boss that treats us terribly.  Universal’s new horror-comedy Renfield takes the classic Dracula story, and uses it as a parable about toxic relationships, narcissism, and the importance of standing up for oneself.

Starring Nicolas Cage, Nicholas Hoult, and Awkwafina, Renfield does a great job blending horror, comedic, and action elements.  And while it does get a bit lost in its own plotline, for the most part, it knows exactly what it’s doing…

Century of Servitude
Serving as something of a sequel to the original Dracula, Renfield shows us glimpses of how the titular character first came to meet Count Dracula in a series of hilarious recreations of the 1931 classic, with Bela Lugosi swapped out for Nicolas Cage.  In this alternate narrative, Dracula was never killed by Van Helsing and crew in the 1890s, and Renfield has been serving him for over a century.

Now in present day New Orleans, Dracula is still slowly regenerating from his last encounter with vampire hunters and Renfield’s mission to bring him victims has brought him to a support group for people in toxic relationships.  Between this and a chance meeting with a police officer (played mostly as comic relief by Awkwafina), Renfield begins to learn to stand up for himself against his abusive master.

Renfield cover
After appearing in films like The Menu, Warm Bodies, and the X-Men prequels as Beast, Nicholas Hoult is no stranger to horror or monstrous creatures.

Classic Cage
Let’s be honest, the major selling point of this movie was the mere pitch of “Nicolas Cage plays Dracula”.  And in that respect, the movie beautifully delivers.  Cage’s brand of completely bizarre energy works perfectly here.  Surprisingly he doesn’t go nearly as over the top as he did the last time he played a vampire in 1988’s Vampire’s Kiss.

He actually goes more subtle than you’d expect, but you really do get the sense that this is a character who’s been “alive” for hundreds of years and really doesn’t know how to relate to anyone other than dominating or killing them.  Even though the subject matter and lines are often comedic, Cage plays the character with all the gravitas of a Shakespearean production.

Renfield 6
Cage plays the hell out of this role and steals every scene he’s in!

Some may be disappointed that he’s not in the movie too, too much. After all, the protagonist and titular character is Renfield, and this is very much his story and his arc.  But in using Cage sparingly, the movie never makes us tired of him, giving us just enough of Cage’s Dracula so that the charm and gimmick never wear off.

Too Many Genres?
Tonally, Renfield is very much a comedy and never takes itself too seriously.  But in terms of genre, it does feel at times like it’s not sure if it wants to be a crime thriller or horror-comedy.  Plotwise, there’s arguably enough going on with Renfield and his struggle to find his inner courage and stand up to Dracula.  However, we also get an entire subplot involving organized crime and the corruption of the police force, much to the dismay of Awkwafina’s character, Officer Rebecca.

To be fair, these concurrent plotlines do end up connecting to each other, but for a movie that had such an iconic villain as Nicolas Cage’s Dracula, you really didn’t need a mob boss secondary villain.  Every time the movie was dealing with this crooked police force crime family story, it just took away from more vampire fun it could have been having.

Renfield 3
Not to say that these characters or this storyline is bad. It just feels like it’s from a different movie.

It’s also very action heavy with some genuinely impressive stunt work and absolutely brutal kills with enough gore and blood to rival Kill Bill.  Although, a lot of the blood spurting effects are done via CGI.  Yes it’s cheaper and easier than practical blood, but it just doesn’t quite look the same.

At its core however, Renfield is very much about standing up for yourself and having the courage to leave a toxic relationship.  It’s an oddly self-help specific theme to feature in a movie about Dracula, but it’s a genuinely creative and new way to tell that story, and it’s what newer movies should be doing.

We’ve had plenty of Dracula movies that essentially just tell the same story, but a lot of thought was put into trying to tell it from a new perspective.  As a character, Renfield was usually very minor and was even sometimes relegated to nothing more than comic relief (to be fair, it was done brilliantly in Dracula: Dead and Loving It).

And this movie is very much played for laughs, but beneath all that is an admittedly inspiring parable about breaking away from abusers, be they spouses or bosses.

Renfield 5
It also shows us a food chain where one abuser and turn another abuser into their codependent submissive.

Overall, Renfield delivers on gore for horror fans (even if it’s mostly CGI), laughs for general audiences, and gives us one of the most unique takes on Dracula we’ve seen in decades!

What do you think of Renfield?  What are some of your other favorite movies featuring Dracula? Let us know in the comments!


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