Renfield is half alive, which for a movie about the undead is sort of a compliment. Directed by Chris McKay from the story of Dracula, the film has a few things going for it– it’s got the great Nicolas Cage in the part of Drac, a script from Robert Kirkman (Walking Dead) and enough blood to fill a swimming pool. So why does this satire turn out to be such a nasty mess?
The film stems from Universal’s attempt to bring back its classic monsters, and it starts out promising enough. Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) gives us a recap on the origin of Dracula through the lens of Tod Browning’s original film. Cage and Hoult are digitally inserted into the classic black and white footage, replacing Bella Lugosi and Dwight Fyre as the two protagonists, and it’s a total blast.
When we catch up with Drac’s henchman, he’s in a support group for couples, only to find that his problems with Nosferatu aren’t exactly on the same level as everyone else’s. Someone’s husband doesn’t clean the dishes? Try scrubbing Dracula’s plate after he devours three corpses. It’s a clever concept, but Renfield adds too many ingredients to the stew, including a procedural that could have been ripped from a CBS prime time drama.
Enter Rebecca (Awkwafina), a New Orleans cop trying to get revenge on the mafia that killed her father. The organization is led by Bellafracesca (Shohreh Aghdashloo) and her son Tedward (Ben Schwartz), the latter of whom finds himself encountering Dracula in his underground lair. All these characters intersect as Renfield learns to become a better person, helps Rebecca take down the mob and sorts through his relationship with Drac, a slimy creature that gives Cage the chance to sink his teeth into long monologues and warm cadavers. If only the rest of the movie were as tasteful.
Renfield relies on craft to create atmosphere and tension, but the script proves it’s possible to have too many things going on at once. McKay’s other outings (The Lego Batman Movie) were packed to the brim with details, but here all that stuff gets lost in a pool of gristle. The overwrought screenplay doesn’t know how to mix gore with horror, or drama with guts.
Deadliest of all, Renfield is not funny. The jokes don’t land, the gags don’t stick and it seems McKay only has one punchline. An hour in, the therapy session with Renfield is still dragging on, which makes you question if McKay has any other ideas in store. We’re on board with these characters–who are more emotional than most creatures–and annoyed at the same time. They are vampires who suck the life out of every scene by doing the same shtick over and over.
Ultimately, McKay’s goal with this movie is to give the source material a new look, but he doesn’t have the tools to carry out a proper makeover. This is a re(vamp)ing that could have used a little more coherence.
Editor’s note: The disclaimer below refers to advertising posts and does not apply to this or any other editorial stories. LA Weekly editorial does not and will not sell content.
Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting LA Weekly and our advertisers.