In this modernized romp based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Director Chris McKay doesn’t skimp on the blood. Renfield is 2023’s monster movie. There are countless twists and turns, filled with chaos and craziness. Renfield embodies everything that one would hope for in a hilariously horrifying film.
The film follows the titular Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) who has been mind-controlled to serve the infamous evil vampire Dracula (Nicolas Cage) for over a century. Renfield has endured as Dracula’s miserable servant, living off of insects and bugs, kidnapping, killing, and delivering the bodies of innocent people to Dracula for his consumption, without any thought of his own needs. The film’s premise is that he has grown tired of living an unfulfilling life under the Count. This idea in itself is absurd—but in a good way. One night, on the hunt for Dracula’s dinner, Renfield stumbles upon a group therapy session at the local church for people in toxic relationships. He hears the testimonies of the group attendees at the session, which they jokingly call “Assholes Anonymous.”
Renfield finds that he enjoys these meetings, although at first he is scared to share his own story with the group, fearing they will not understand. The other group members have toxic relationships with romantic partners, whereas Renfield is in what he calls a “codependent relationship” with Count Dracula, a toxic, narcissistic, delusional, killing machine. Renfield continues to go to the group therapy meetings where he begins to resonate with affirmations, like “I am enough” and “I deserve happiness.” This aspect of the film adds to the absurdity and comedy of it all, as Renfield’s toxic situation is a little different from the others in the group. With the help of his therapy comrades, Renfield alters his style, shifting from his battered brown suit to fun, bright colors to match his new positive attitude. He decides he will take his power back from the Count and learn to lead a real life.
Count Dracula has scoured the earth for eons, sucking the blood of innocent victims left and right—yet somehow, McKay provides a fresh take on the blueprint for so much vampire media. Nicolas Cage is decked out in black and red velvet capes, dagger-like nails, fangs sharp as knives, jet-black eyes, and blood dripping down his face, perfectly embodying the Count’s essence. Portraying the “Prince of Death,” Cage’s comedic timing and coy delivery acting perfectly embodies the delightfully deranged character that is Count Dracula. Cage is frightening to look at, yet hilarious to watch. His overt actions are so preposterous you cannot help laughing. Although Count Dracula is not the main attraction of Renfield, he does not disappoint in adding highly entertaining scenes of this absurd, gruesome comedy.
Renfield is filled with blood, gore, and fantastical fights between New Orleans’ most powerful drug empire, the Lobos. Renfield and Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina), a local police officer, work together to take down this growing evil of New Orleans. This part of the plot differentiates Renfield from other vampire movies. Involving a traffic cop and her evil nemeses Teddy (Ben Schwartz) and Bella-Francesa Lobo (Shohreh Aghdashloo) brings the film to the next level of comedy and absurdity.
The details and cinematography bring this story to life. The contrast between humanity and the un-dead. Present day evil (the Lobo’s) and evil that has endured for centuries (the Count). The colors and settings of the movie drive it home. Between the vibrant colors of Renfield’s new life and the white face and jet black clothing of the Count, a viewer cannot help but notice that they do not belong together.
As Renfield and Rebecca Quincy work together to rid the city of a heinous crime family, they forge an unexpectedly healthy and motivational bond. Awkwafina’s character adds a fun, hilarious aspect to the police force. She is the singular non-corrupt cop who is constantly thrown under the bus by higher-ups because the Lobo family is so untouchable.
Rebecca and Renfield’s bond begins when Teddy shows up to the restaurant and holds Rebecca at gunpoint. She looks Teddy in the eyes and tells him to shoot her because she refuses to fall at the feet of her nemesis. Her confidence immediately inspires Renield, and he immediately decides he is going to become one of the good guys and help her destroy the Lobo’s.
They engage in an epic battle, effectively killing Lobo’s crew and scaring off Teddy. The scene is filled with a completely unbelievable blood bath. Heads are flying off. Arms are being used as baseball bats. People are using other people as weapons. Bugs are the source of power. It is crazy and it is fabulous!
Renfield’s soundtrack, written by Marco Beltrami, adds the necessary elements of suspense, fear, and stomach-dropping sensations that are fundamental to these vampire battle scenes. The songs are filled with harmonies and intervals that create a sense of tension and uneasiness to accompany the scenes. Tempos increase as tension builds up. Beltrami makes use of both silence and sound effects, producing a variety of frightening anthems.
Hollywood is on a major vampire/Dracula kick right now, and Renfield is proof that despite endless renditions, Dracula’s allure is eternal.