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Renfield starring Nicolas Cage, Nicholas Hoult and Awkwafina
Trailer: Universal Pictures

Directed by Chris McKay
Rated R
Sucked 14 April 2023

Renfield serves as a catharsis of over-the-top gore and somewhat jaundiced social commentary, all bundled into a bonkers therapy session.

You Can Have the Life You Want

It seems so obvious now.

In a world still trudging back out into the light after the pandemic, with mental health a hot topic, self-esteem at a premium and relationships — personal and professional — going through all sorts of power struggles, how about revisiting the relationship between Count Dracula and his “familiar,” Robert Montague Renfield, quite possibly one of the most toxic work relationships of all time?

It's a great idea. It’s also devilishly funny and wicked smart.

Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) is alive and well in the contemporary world as he attends group therapy sessions for those stuck in destructive, co-dependent relationships. He’s looking for victims to sacrifice to Dracula. Oh, no, not the weaklings seeking therapy. He gets to know those who are suffering, identifies their domineering partners and then seeks bloody vengeance on the menacing characters.

As for Count Dracula, the Prince of Darkness, he’s Nicolas Cage. And give Cage plenty of credit; even under gobs of prosthetics and bloody makeup, he comes through loud and clear. As proven in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, Cage is a force to be reckoned with and he savors this role.

Rather than simply drop these two legends of literature into modern times, Renfield takes a novel approach to tying the events of today back to the 1931 classic starring Bela Lugosi. Flashbacks take the form of black-and-white, 1.33:1 footage, cleverly inserting Cage and Hoult into the action. With that gesture, Renfield adds another layer. It’s a movie that holds a deep and abiding affection for movies and the moviegoing experience.

Grow to Full Power

It’s good to see the cheesy-horror-violent-action-comedy genre finally come into its own. Violent Night hit the mark in December; Cocaine Bear was a near miss in February. Now Renfield sinks its teeth into it with fresh gusto. All three are destined for “cult classic” status.

Renfield wastes no time in getting to the bloodfest. This isn’t the romantic sweep of Dracula as portrayed by Frank Langella or Gary Oldman; it’s not even in the Hammer Horror vein. This is blood and guts by way of Troma; the kind of disgusting mayhem found in 1970s grindhouse schlock, which has been the style of choice for Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino.

The blood and guts flow — fly, splatter, slosh, burst, cascade, flood, gush — pick your preferred adjective. But, unlike the rather lazy cheese of Cocaine Bear, the cheesiness here serves the subject and the concept well.

Put it in perspective. This is Dracula by way of Chris McKay, who directed The Lego Batman Movie and loads of Robot Chicken. The screenplay’s from Ryan Ridley, a scribe behind episodes of Rick and Morty and Community. Plus, Robert Kirkman, the mind behind The Walking Dead, is credited with the “original idea.”

I Deserve to Be Loved

Renfield is proof positive some bosses suck more than others and, in that regard, it works as relatively cheap therapy. In this case, those sessions are led by a guy who bears a striking resemblance to business and leadership strategist and motivational speaker Simon Sinek. It’s actually Brandon Scott Jones, but just the look-alike thought is entertaining in itself.

It’s a sprite 92 minutes of pandemonium that includes some witty gags about Ska music (of all things) and a storyline involving a New Orleans cop named Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina), who’s trying to bring down a crime family. She lost her father in the line of duty, there’s tension between Quincy and her sister and there’s a whole lotta corruption going on in the department.

All of the threads intertwine as Rebecca and Renfield cross paths, leading to a nice little storyline reinforcing the notion it’s never too late to start over. And, as Renfield tries to break free of his master’s bad management, Dracula finds a new subject in Tedward Lobo (Ben Schwartz), who brings a different take on things. The Lobo mob boss is his mom. He’s merely a spoiled rotten punk with an army to do his bidding.

He's also perfect minion material for a guy like the count.

Renfield benefits from a mindset along the lines of Game Night. If one joke goes bust, there’s another right around the corner. That includes sight gags, which leads to a blink-and-miss-it pacing that serves the movie well and warrants a second viewing.

But there is at least one missed opportunity. The story moves Renfield and Dracula to New Orleans. It just so happens Nicolas Cage has a plot in a cemetery there, with a rather large grave marker already in place. It could’ve been fun to find some way to slip that into the movie. Somewhere. A quick reference. A blink-and-miss-it sight gag that blurs fantasy and reality.

• Originally published at

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