Cage with bite.
Renfield (2023): 9 out of 10: is a mesmerizing blend of supernatural thrill and modern psychological drama, painting a vivid tableau of New Orleans’ mysterious underbelly. With a masterful juxtaposition of early 20th-century Transylvanian lore against the vibrant backdrop of the Crescent City, the film introduces us to R. M. Renfield (Nicholas Hoult), whose character evolution is both profound and heart-rending.
From a humble English lawyer who ambitiously aims to strike a land deal to becoming the tormented familiar of the formidable Count Dracula (Nicolas Cage), Renfield’s character becomes the heart of this tale. The timeless story of master and servant takes a refreshing turn, as it delves into themes of codependency, self-worth, and redemption, particularly when Renfield discovers a self-help group that illuminates his toxic relationship with the vampire lord.
New Orleans’ vivacity is not just a backdrop but a character in itself. The film successfully weaves its intricate plotlines, from corrupt police to the menacing Lobo crime family, creating a tapestry of danger and intrigue. Yet, amidst the tension, the film does not shy away from addressing deeper emotional and moral quandaries.
Awkwafina is also good as a police officer whose sense of justice and determination becomes instrumental in the unfolding drama. Her interactions with Renfield add a layer of complexity, as the line between predator and protector becomes increasingly blurred. Their dynamic evolves into an unexpected partnership, which becomes the film’s driving force.
Another commendable aspect of “Renfield” is its exploration of the grey areas of morality. Teddy Lobo (Ben Schwartz), for instance, is more than just an antagonist; his motivations and alliances add depth to the story, making for an unpredictable narrative.
The climax, which sees Renfield and Rebecca taking on Dracula-empowered gang members, is a cinematic treat. With thrilling action sequences, unexpected alliances, and heart-stopping moments, the film ensures audiences are on the edge of their seats.
In summary, “Renfield (2023)” is a brilliantly crafted narrative that redefines vampire tales. It is a must-watch for fans of supernatural thrillers and crime dramas alike, promising a rollercoaster of emotions, edge-of-your-seat action, and an unforgettable journey of redemption.
The Good: If they ever decide to make a Saint’s Row movie (and they should) I would absolutely tap director Ryan Ridley and writers Chris McKay, Robert Kirkman, Ava Tramer to make this film. The drug gang in this (Lobos) has a headquarters and style right out of the Saints Row games. The humor and over the top violence and weapons are also right out of the games. Hell, even the boss characters and occasional tonal shifts into serious violence fit the game to a tee.
Somehow Renfield is the Saint’s Row movie adaptation you have been waiting for. It even takes place in New Orleans, which again fits Saint’s Row to a tee. Renfield also blends the occasional drama of Saints Row 2 with the over the top headquarters and characters and violence of Saints Row 3. Brilliant.
Comedic or otherwise, Nicholas Cage is one of the best screen Dracula’s this side of Christopher Lee. He is brilliant in this, playing the character in a manner that is both straightforward and over the top. He is legitimately frightening as well, which reminded me of Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds, of all things. Cage is helped by some excellent make-up effects throughout the film and an opening that seamlessly puts him in the shoes of Bela Lugosi.
The movie focuses on the relationship between Dracula and Renfield and supposes it is a relationship between a narcistic master (Dracula) and his co-dependent (Renfield). Renfield spends much of the movie going to an AA style support group for co-dependents. He tells himself it is to find perfect victims for his master. (He feels by killing the people causing the suffering among his fellow group members, he will help society. Think a more hands off Dexter Morgan.)
Of course, Renfield grows to realise he is also a victim. In a brilliant subversion, when he finally confronts Dracula about his relationship, Dracula paints himself as the victim. (It’s 2023 being a victim is the true currency) and points out Renfield’s own ownership in the relationship. Nicholas Cage successfully chews the gaudy scenery from one end to another and is so good that I think the vampire had some decent and perceptive points.
As the video included below points out, the filmmakers definitely did thier homework regarding toxic relationships and codependency. Everything else is a delightful over the top cartoon. The gang and the cops, in particular, are pure cartoons. Think 2004’s The Punisher as well as the previously mentioned Saints Row.
Renfield is also blessed with some excellent action scenes. Yeah, officer Awkwafina being part of a massacre of fifty New Orleans cops might raise a few narrative eyebrows. But they were all, um… corrupt. Anyway, the fight scenes are extremely bloody (Think the Black Knight fight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail) and have a great energy.
One last thing about Renfield it is hilarious. The characters are very witty but not in that annoying Marvel Cinematic Universe way. In the support group Jenna Kanell, who has a tiny role, steals every scene she is in with a droll wit and perfect timing while Brandon Scott Jones is so perfect as the group lead. I could watch an entire movie with him just doling out self help psychobabble.
The Bad: So, if Dracula is a real recognizable thing in this universe. (Everyone here knows who Dracula is) why do people not automatically place Renfield as his assistant? I mean, if someone introduces himself to me as a British lawyer named Renfield, I am pretty sure my first comment is going to be an awkward Dracula quip.
Playing the lead, Nicholas Hoult is not bad in Renfield. He just gets out acted in most of his scenes. Part of that is he is the more vanilla grounded character. But even when he eats a spider and gets super strength, everyone else seems more fun.
The Ugly: Renfield ends with a feel good copout that threatens to undo a lot of the last ninety minutes. That a codependent breaking free from a narcissist involves sacrifice and pain is thrown out the window for a pollyannaish everything worked out and everything is fine ending. (Both films I watched this weekend had bizarre disastrous last minute feel good endings that undercut the movie. The other being a Victorian, lesbian, woman in prison, historical drama with spiritualists called Affinity, which was not nearly as fun as that brief description would indicate.)
In Conclusion: Coppola should have swallowed his pride and hired his nephew for Dracula like the studio wanted instead of of Keanu Reeves. I can imagine Cage and Oldman going toe to toe chewing the furniture. Like Gary Oldman’s take on the character, Cage eats anyone around him alive in Renfield. (Both literally and figuratively) It is a delight to see a real Dracula on screen again after so many disappoints. (Cough Blade: Trinity Cough)
Renfield is a gory fun time with an intelligent message at its core. What a great take on an old property, well executed and entertaining to boot.