Review – Renfield

We’ve all been there before. Or at least, we know someone who has been on the receiving end of a toxic, co-dependant relationship. Whether it’s shitty partners, condescending family members, or a servant with an evil vampire master – we can all relate to the feeling of wanting to be loved, and not used by the people in our lives. And for over 100 years on cinematic history, Renfield has been demeaned, ridiculed, and berated in his co-dependant relationship with the Prince of Darkness, Dracula, until one heroic act gives him the courage to step out from the dark world that consumes him in the new action-comedy, Renfield.

Constantly moving around the United States, Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) spends his nights prowling the streets for unwilling victims to the slaughter, at the demand of his master, Dracula (Nicolas Cage). The routine is monotonous and bloody, but Renfield’s humanity steers him in the direction of only targeting criminals and bad people to take back for Dracula’s consumption, despite the monstrous epitome of evil requesting people of pure, young blood, often ordering people like cheerleaders or nuns as if they were items on a McDonalds menu.

One fateful night, as Renfield sits alone in a restaurant before beginning his nightly routine, a thuggish gang led by Teddy Lobo (Ben Schwartz), shoot up the restaurant in glorious fashion, leading to young and dedicated police officer Rebecca (Awkwafina) being held at gunpoint while trying to defuse the situation. Renfield strikes up the courage to take charge and finally be the hero for once in his life and takes down Teddy’s henchman in spectacular and stylised fashion. The feeling of heroism overcomes Renfield, and this newfound confidence allows him to being a new, independent life for himself, but not without frequent interruption from a revengeful Teddy, and his needy master, Dracula.

Long before Renfield came out, the internet as a collective were unbelievably excited to see iconic and charismatic actor Nicolas Cage don the prosthetics and fake fangs as Dracula. Coming in hot off his killer performances in Pig and The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, the idea that Cage could once again let loose in a role, akin to his days in films such as Vampire’s Kiss, with such unapologetic absurdity, was undoubtedly a main card draw to this film. And Cage does not disappoint. Whether Cage is drenched in grotesque make up, giving an unhinged performance through his eyes, or psychotically flying around in high-octane action scenes, utilising his unique physicality to portray this inhuman, and un-human, creature, the level of dedication and commitment from one of the world’s favourite actors, makes the insanity of this story incredibly immersive and fun.

Outside of Cage, Renfield holds its own as an incredible funny, ridiculous, and action-packed ride that’s heart is worn on its sleeve through Nicholas Hoult’s engaging performance. Renfield throughout the film attends a ‘co-dependant relationship survivors’ meeting, like an ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ type setting, and hesitantly unloads his emotions and feelings about his toxic relationship with Dracula in a way that the other attendees are often more shocked by, than sympathetic, adding a great balance of humour, but understanding for how Renfield truly feels. There is also a brilliant non-cholent nature, almost like a dead feeling inside Renfield, when he kidnaps or kills Dracula’s food during the film’s first act. But when Renfield begins his journey towards independence, the innocent, fun natured performance of Hoult lifts the tone and atmosphere of the film.

The B-story happening alongside the toxic relationship drama, involves Rebecca trying to take down the Lobo crime family. It’s easy for this generic plot thread to come and go throughout the film with little care or notice, as it acts primarily as the momentum for Renfield to move forward in the story. In any other action-comedy like this, the incredibly generic ‘good cop taking down a crime family’ plot could have easily fallen to the wayside. However, utilising comedic performances that are as strong as Awkwafina and Ben Schwartz create some truly hilarious moments as the actors let loose with laugh-out-loud one-liners and entertaining physical humour that brings levity and substance to many filler scenes. The constant riffing and banter-filled nature of these scenes make Renfield’s run time fly by at breakneck speeds.

However, the most exciting aspect of Renfield is the energetic, stylised, and comedically gory action set pieces, helmed with frantic pacing and enthusiasm by director Chris McKay (The Lego Batman Movie, The Tomorrow War). Whether it’s Renfield vs. Dracula, or Renfield vs. an army of goons, the martial arts inspired combat, mixed with dynamic camera work and downright hilarious dismemberment of limbs, brings such a fun tone to the action elements of this film. It’s rare that an action-comedy does both aspects incredibly well, usually focusing on getting the laugh, rather than exciting the audience with bombastic action. Renfield decides to break the mould by committing to the over-the-top violence in scenes that genuinely come across as incredibly cool to watch. The comedic level of blood, gore and using someone’s arms as nun-chucks match the absurd and wacky tone that the film is going for, without losing its brutality along the way.

Thematically on paper, Renfield has a pretty generic foundation to its storylines, but the commitment to the insanity from director McKay in both the action and the comedy elements, and the performances, especially of Cage and Hoult, make this film an incredibly fun time that will have you uncontrollably laughing, whilst also riding the adrenaline high off the intense and exciting set pieces.

Renfield is in Australian cinemas May 25, courtesy of Universal Pictures.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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We’ve all been there before. Or at least, we know someone who has been on the receiving end of a toxic, co-dependant relationship. Whether it’s shitty partners, condescending family members, or a servant with an evil vampire master – we can all relate to...Review - Renfield