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Renfield (A Movie Review)

Updated: Apr 15, 2023


Starring Nicholas Hoult, Awkwafina, Nicolas Cage, Ben Schwartz, Adrian Martinez, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Brandon Scott Jones, Jenna Kanell, Bess Rous, James Moses Black, Caroline Williams, Miles Doleac, Danya LaBelle, Rhonda Johnson Dents, Christopher Matthew Cook, Michael P. Sullivan, Rosha Washington, James Moses Black and T.C. Matherne.

Screenplay by Ryan Ridley.

Directed by Benjamin Millepied.

Distributed by Universal Pictures. 93 minutes. Rated R.

In general I have never liked comedies that used horror and violence to gain laughs.

So color me surprised that I have actually kind of liked three insanely violent but wonderfully goofy comedies in the past six months. Violent Night, Cocaine Bear and now Renfield are actually pretty decent comedies. And while still I could have lived without much of the bloody mayhem, it almost worked in context of the films.

The violence in Renfield is silly and cartoonish, almost like an old Looney Tunes cartoon, if Looney Tunes trafficked in frequent dismemberments and buckets of blood.

Renfield is another one of those films that look at a classic tale from the point of view of a supporting character. This style was big like 10-15 years ago (Maleficent, Mirror Mirror) and do tend to open new insights into very well-known, staid literary classics.

The hero – well sort of hero – here is Renfield (Nicholas Hoult), the familiar who serves the legendary vampire Count Dracula (Nicolas Cage).

The high concept of the film is that it must be a bummer to work for such a mean, heartless, vindictive and violent boss as Dracula. Add to that you don’t particularly enjoy the work (collecting victims), the contract is binding and eternal and the pay kind of sucks. It seems like the ultimate HR disaster.

On the plus side, you do get days off.

To make things even a little more off-the-wall, Renfield takes place in modern-day New Orleans, adding organized crime, corrupt cops and self-help groups into the gumbo.

Therefore, Renfield joins a support group for people who can’t stand up for themselves to bullies. Of course, there is an ulterior motive to this move – not only does Renfield want to come to terms with his indentured servitude to his cruel boss, but also, he figures that some of the victimizers that are terrorizing his groupmates would also make for good meals for Dracula. It seemed like a win-win.

Of course, nothing ever works as planned.

Dracula uses his ward’s crisis to further hurt the guy and kill off most of the people that Renfield has come to care for. Thus the befuddled familiar must come up with an extreme way of giving notice of resignation.

Cage has an unhinged hoot as the master of darkness, a role which he has flirted with occasionally for decades. (See also: Vampire’s Kiss.) It’s a perfect role for him, and honestly when he is on screen, he sucks all of the energy out of everyone and everything else going on around him.

Hoult has fun making Renfield incredibly solicitous, except for when he becomes a one-man wrecking crew. However, even when he is killing, he does it oddly politely.

Awkwafina is fine as a parking cop who wants to bring down the crime family that killed her decorated cop dad, and when she can’t do it legally, she joins Renfield in mowing the bad guys down. She is funny, but honestly, it’s nothing she hasn’t done before, and done better.

Renfield is not a great film, but as a short (93 minutes) and flashy distraction, it’s actually surprisingly funny much of the time. And while I still find the blood and guts excessive, it’s still worth the watch, as long as you have a relatively strong stomach.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2023 All rights reserved. Posted: April 14, 2023.


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