Gemma Creagh gets her fangs into comedy horror Renfield.
From Christopher Lee to Bela Lugosi – over the years Dracula has been embodied on screen by Hollywood’s top character actors, now’s the time for Nicolas Cage to fill those fine Italian loafers. Although this is not his first foray with fangs; 1988’s Vampire’s Kiss, is still to this day fuel for memes due to Cage’s eh… commitment to the role.
At a support meeting for people in codependent relationships, Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) listens to the other attendees as they share the trauma that was inflicted on them by the narcissists in their lives. Although co-dependant himself, Renfield refuses to talk in the group, and instead cultivates a plan to feed their abusers to his very own narcissist, his boss, Dracula (Cage). Having served this cruel master for almost a century, and doing unspeakable evil deeds in the process, Renfield struggles under the weight of his guilt. His self esteem is at an all time low – no matter how many bugs he eats.
Meanwhile New Orleans Police Department Cop Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina) longs to take down the Lobos. This prolific and brutal drug cartel is headed up by the delightfully wicked Ella Lobo (Shohreh Aghdashloo), a powerful woman, she runs this town with her burly goons, and try-hard, incompetent son Teddy (Ben Schwartz). Stuck on the traffic beat, Quincy’s desperate for revenge after they murdered her father, a decorated police officer. When this mismatched pair of protagonists cross paths, Renfield, wowed by Quincy’s bravery, begins to believe that perhaps he can break free from the clutches of his terrifying boss after all. Upon finding out about this bid for freedom, Dracula makes sure Renfield must pay the price.
A buddy cop, B Movie with comic book sensibilities, Renfield pays homage to a wide variety of filmic classics, from honouring its vintage vampyric roots to celebrating gloriously grisly eighties “splatstick”. Yet despite the outlandish elements, there’s an uncomfortable, and well observed truth to the portrayal of the toxic dynamic between Dracula and our titular character. The story is based on an original concept by Comic Book writer Robert Kirkman (Walking Dead Co-Creator) and adapted for screen by Ryan Ridley, a writer on Rick and Morty, another dark, profound, silly offering. These darker themes sit deeply layered under the rich production design and razor sharp dialogue in this character-dense, tightly woven plot. Every second of the 1 hour and 33 minute run time is justified, and any slower beats of character development or exposition are immediately followed by a high octane fight scene or chase.
While this film doesn’t deviate too far from the villainous tropes of the genre, it does delve below the surface when it comes to character. Despite the zany elements of the premise, there’s a chemistry between the on screen leads that helps us instantly connect to some pretty unlikable characters. For instance, Hoult’s innocent vulnerability and charm as the murderous and superstrong Renfield; or Awkwafina’s level, constant fury cracking occasionally to reveal a hint of warmth or wit. Even the antagonists are a joy to behold. What’s not to love about the exuberance of Cage as he deploys that infamously camp Face Off energy, or Schwartz’s earnest wide eyed desperation to please, a puppy dog trained in murder; or Aghdashloo sensuously evil Ella.
From visual effects, to easter eggs, to A-listers firing on all cylinders, There are simply so many spinning plates to Renfield. Director and co-producer Chris McKay not only manages to keep them all spinning, but as the story unravels, he somehow manages to keep pulling out more plates, in the form of film references, character development and hilariously bleak jokes.
This insane blood-soaked adventure is well executed yet meaty at its core – specially for us die hard cinema fans.
Renfield is in cinemas from 14th April 2023.