The best thing that “Renfield” has going for it, is the demented, ham fisted performance by Nicolas Cage as Dracula. He is the antagonist in the story and is mostly a secondary lead to Nicholas Hoult as the titular character. Hoult is great too, but it is the make-up heavy visage of the Count that you will remember if you see this film. From the very beginning, when Cage and Hoult are digitally inserted into the original 1931 version of the film, I was hooked into the story, regardless of where it ultimately was going.
This is decidedly a comedy rather than a horror film. There is not really a sense of dread so much as an expectation of violence. So it is also an action film, although one with an unconventional premise. Renfield has decided to break his codependency with the count, and try to make up for a lot of horrible things that he has done. Making amends is complicated when you are for the most part, a contributor to the longest murder spree in history. The conflicted servant seems like a decent guy, despite enabling a monster for almost a century. That we can relate to the character is the gift of Hoult, who manages to convey a puppy dog like sincerity, even when dragging dead bodies across the floor to his master.
In trying to flesh out the story, the film makers have borrowed a subplot from the long forgotten, “Innocent Blood” from 1992. That story mixed vampires with mobsters and “Renfield” does the same thing to create more confrontations for Hoult’s character and a threat for Dracula to expand on. It also justifies the addition of Awkwafina to the cast, as a smart mouthed cop who both backs up Renfield and pursues him as a suspect. There is also a romantic element to her presence, which is mostly discrete but makes the film more conventional than it needs to be.
Cage gets a mouthful of fangs to emote through, and that is fun to watch. Dracula in the story has been repeatedly stopped by good guys and it doesn’t end with his death so much as a fall in fortunes that takes a while to recover from. This feels like it is borrowed from “Interview with the Vampire”, as Lestat had to lay in a hole in the ground for a long time before being revived. The decrepit make up effects here are stellar and the incremental improvements are faithful to the story. So the technical elements of the film are top notch.
The action sequences are reminiscent of a thousand recent films in which the fights are staged with wire work, CGI and physics defying visual movements. There are also copious amounts of CGi blood and dismembered body parts. That is the stuff that is used for the extreme humor that a movie such as this is designed to take advantage of. The use of a persons limbs as projectiles that another person will be impaled on is both disturbing and amusing. I suspect that if you are inclined to see this film, those will be the kinds of moments that you are looking for, congratulations, you will find plenty of them.
“Renfield” is not going to set the movie world on fire, but it does entertain in the lane that it is driving in. There are a lot of gruesome laughs to be had and a fun performance from Nic Cage. So I can’t think of a reason to skip it, even if in the long run it is not a substantial film. The idea for the concept is what makes this worthwhile, but it is not a very deep idea in the first place. Dwight Frye has nothing to worry about.