By: Amanda Guarragi
Count Dracula has been one of the most prolific monsters on the big screen for decades. Many actors have portrayed the Count and done him justice. The films have mainly been adapted from Bram Stoker’s novel and have had plenty of interpretations. Most of them have been dramas, except for Sesame Street, but the face of Dracula has made his mark in cinema history. Chris McKay’s Renfield changes the angle of how people perceive the Count through his right-hand man, Renfield (Nicholas Hoult). For Dracula (Nicolas Cage) to live a full life, he needs to have the purest blood out there, so Renfield does his bidding. Renfield wants to know what life would be like if he made his own decisions. As he goes to a group therapy discussion to recruit the “bad seeds” that are being discussed, he begins to listen to the life advice given to others.
In the novel Stoker’s Dracula, Renfield is a human who has evil forming within him. As the story goes, Renfield would eat the insects in his room to have a slice of what Dracula would take from humans. Co-writers Ryan Ridley and Robert Kirkman used every single myth about Dracula and utilized them quite well in this film. The star is Hoult as Renfield tries to break free from his boss and become the hero he knows he can be. To gain super strength to kill his victims, he eats bugs to become stronger or gain “Dracula powers.” After decades of working with Dracula, he begins to see his self-worth and that he doesn’t have to live in fear of Dracula. While Renfield attempts to avoid bringing victims to Dracula, he tangles himself with the cops and drug lords in the city. To redeem himself after all his wrongdoings, he works with a cop named Rebecca (Awkwafina) to bring them down.
The one mark against this fun and bloody horror comedy is the lack of chemistry between Hoult and Awkwafina. They have most of the screen time, and it is an unlikely pairing that worked better on the page than on the screen. At times the humour does get away from them as some jokes land better than others. The film is at its peak when Cage is on screen as Count Dracula and Ben Schwartz as Teddy Lobo was a treat. They both stole the spotlight in their respective scenes and had such high energy to complement Renfield and Rebecca. This isn’t to say that Hoult can’t lead a film, but it’s more of a testament to whom he shared scenes with that made him shine brighter. Renfield’s best moments are when he’s ripping people to shreds in a fight scene because all the blood and gore looked brutally awesome. The action scenes snowballed into one massive fight at the end that used different vampire hunting techniques.
Renfield is a bloody good time because of the unique perspective Ridley and Kirkman wrote the title character. Hoult is incredibly charming and badass in this. But it’s the campy, over-the-top nature of Cage that makes this an absolute joy to watch. The story is focused on Rebecca and her past with her father and the Lobo crime family, and in the middle, the film gets away from Renfield. It feels like an old-time horror comedy that does not take itself too seriously and uses the lore to poke fun at Dracula himself. The cast all work to their strengths, especially Schwartz and Cage, to make this a unique film for Universal. In the end, Renfield learns that he has to fight for the life he wants and that no one can make those decisions for him. He can live life knowing that he can become his own hero.