Nicolas Cage is the famed bloodsucker of all time—the number one “undead” of horror fame, the one, the only Count Dracula. And that means Cage, with the blood lust of his character, puts his full “Cage-ness” out for display, flaws and all.
But this comedy horror is really about the cape-wearing demon of death’s assistant, Renfield (Nicholas Hoult). Did I say “assistant”? He’s more like Dracula’s unwilling servant and overworked disciple. In a voice-over, we are told that it takes a lot of gory and hard work to return Dracula to his previous state, so Renfield’s job is to find him dinner—aka—victims to drain of their blood. That’s his job: to find people to kill, because with enough blood and time, Dracula can come back to his former robust form.
And how did Dracula get into such bad shape? He’s undead, after all. I offer that it was his greed because he seems to be perpetually starving, and we as the audience are shown several action sequences filled with throat-ripping damage in a fast-moving montage that culminates in drapes being thrown open, sunlight illuminating the room, and Dracula bursting into flames.
Is the movie over before it’s begun? No. Of course not: Remember, this is Renfield’s story, and despite the sun leaving Dracula a charred husk (which it does), it’s Renfield’s his job to help bring this bloodthirsty demon back to life (to death)!
A big task for a mortal man, right? Well, once Renfield devours an insect, he’s transformed and has supernatural powers and can kick ass and take a lot of names. (One of the most entertaining scenes has the frazzled man destroying an entire room of bad guys in a New Orleans bar.)
Here’s the story. Renfield prepares Dracula’s home deep inside the bowels of the Old Charity Hospital. He rents his own place and essentially tries to make himself over. He cuts his hair. Wears a sweater. He distances himself from the undead evil, stepping into a mundane life.
To keep the action going (I think), the screenwriter (Chris McKay) added an underworld crime-family plot. Meet the Lobos family, led by Bellafrancesca (Shohreh Aghdashloo) and her son, Ted (Ben Schwartz), the lead henchman. This is a family of drug dealers being protected by the police.
Now—wait for it—this family forms an alliance with Dracula (stop laughing, or keep laughing), but there’s one noble cop Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina) who’s on her path of revenge because her father (a police officer) was murdered by them. Naturally, when Rebecca connects with Reinfield, an alliance is born.
There’s some charm in watching Renfield try to better himself. He’s reading all about toxic narcissism and reading self-help books. There’s an interesting character who knows he’s essentially doomed but is trying anyway. And he’s conflicted because once he chews on a bug, he’s as dangerous as Dracula.
I must admit, there’s some glee in watching an action-horror-comedy. This one is packed with many fight sequences and lots of limbs being torn and blood splattering. You would think by the very title of the movie that the character Renfield would be layered just enough for us to “care” about his fate but somehow, no!
There’s pure delight in watching Cage go full “NICOLAS CAGE” as the vampire of lore. It almost looks like the actor was born to play the role. The makeup and costumes just help him push the performance over the edge, which is saying a lot, because Cage is known for bringing characters to life that live (comfortably) on the edge. Cage is utterly over the top, outlandish but layered.
The film might not do the box office it thought it would because there’s no mystery in this film. It’s jammed to the rafters with ideas that have no place to flourish.
The tone of this movie isn’t hopeful. There are no real good guys to root for. Maybe it’s cynical on purpose? I mean how can you care about a human character who (once transformed) is as violent as the undead legend? Answer: You can’t, but there’s enough over-the-top action-paced, blood-squirting drama, comedy, and horror to keep you entertained.
“Renfield” now playing, starring Nicolas Cage, Nicholas Hoult, Awkwafina, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Ben Schwartz, Adrian Martinez, and Brandon Scott Jones.