The titular character from Bram Stoker’s classic novel, DRACULA, has allegedly appeared in over 200 films—second only to Sherlock Holmes in literary onscreen portrayals. One particular character from the novel, glossed over again and again and given little explanation nor much of an arc, is Dracula’s maniacal henchman, Mr. R. M. Renfield. This man is scarcely explored even in the source novel. It’s about time he received his own redemption story.
RENFIELD, directed by Chris McKay (THE TOMORROW WAR, THE LEGO MOVIE), and written by Ryan Ridley and Robert Kirkman, centers around the pitiful antihero and serves as a direct sequel to the 1933 classic, DRACULA, starring the wonderful Bela Lugosi as D and an iconic performance by Dwight Frye as Renfield. This clever tie from one Universal Studios property to another serves as a brilliant connective tissue between the black-and-white classic and this ultraviolet continuation. After years of servitude and abuse, Renfield is ready to change his life and break free from the chains of Dracula’s employment. Dracula isn’t happy about this.
Nicholas Hoult, as Renfield, is an adorable, lovable outcast with a dark side. His pale skin, tangled hair, and expressive, earnest eyes give him an instantly pitiable appearance, but Hoult doesn’t rely on his looks alone to get us on his side. From his gentle pattern of speech to his nod to the character’s classic, eerie laugh, he’s clearly done his research and loves the character as much as audiences are bound to love him. Awkwafina, who never ceases to impress, shines as Rebecca, a rookie cop with a chip on her shoulder fighting hard to see the good in a world of evil. She and Hoult share a convincing chemistry, and her comedic timing is as on point as ever. The always-welcome Ben Schwartz, who usually sits on the cusp of an in-joke on his borderline obnoxious demeanor, gives an unexpectedly lurid performance as career criminal Tedward Lobo. The cast is as eclectic and surprising as the film.
Nicolas Cage, however, as Dracula, is the reason to see this movie. To many, Cage is an acquired taste, but it is this author’s humble opinion that he is one of the most brilliant actors of all time. Here, giving another career-best performance, he is all at once funny, charming, terrifying, and impossible not to take your eyes away from. Portraying what is commonly known as one of his dream roles, he balances the classic tropes of Dracula with his own quirky, bizarre nature, delivering one of the most garish and memorable horror performances in recent years. Love him or hate him, you will remember his Dracula.
The film accomplishes a lot in that it blends comedy, action, romance, and horror quite successfully. It’s no small feat to seamlessly jump from tender, heartfelt moments to gory, over-the-top action sequences (one particular blood bath garnered applause in my showing), but McKay creates a believable, out-of-control world that convinces audiences any and all of this is possible and exists in the same story. At its most fun, it’s full of insane, bloody fight sequences backed up by a killer soundtrack. At its most effective, it transitions from this to a truly haunting horror movie. When it’s bad, it’s still good. When it’s good, it’s great.
In a world of horror remakes and reboots, RENFIELD is a refreshing and welcome instance of cashing in on IP. The film does a good job of introducing younger audiences to the world of DRACULA but makes sure to honor its source material and plant homages throughout. A horror novice or a seasoned horror junkie will find something to love about RENFIELD (It will honestly probably be Nicholas Cage’s performance…and his wardrobe).
RENFIELD is available in theatres.