RENFIELD Review: A Very Fun Concept Stretched a Little Too Thin
Nicholas Hoult, Nicolas Cage and Awkwafina star in a comedic interpretation of the famed characters.
It's not surprising that Universal Studios would want to recycle one of its strongest eras with its monster movies. They have been classics for nearly 100 years for a reason, and there are so many more stories to be told using the tropes and characters of vampires, werewolves, Frankensteins, and the like. And it's no wonder that actors would love to be involved in these projects, especially if the concept is strong and there's a promise of good one-liners and action. You can have all these wonderful pieces, but if there aren't strong enough strings to proverbially tie it all together, the final result can be somewhat less than satisfying.
That's when you end up with a film like Renfield. A movie that is often very fun, with great performances by a talented and enthusiastic cast, some great quips, a few excellent and delightfully gruesome kills. But even at a tight 93 minutes, there's too often a drop in energy, too many fast cuts to hide unexciting action, and interesting hints dropped with a heavy clang that are left haphazardly for the characters to tiptoe around. In short, it's fun, but not particularly satisfying.
After nearly a century of being in the Dark Lord's thrall, Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) is weary, to say the least, of cleaning up after Dracula's (Nicolas Cage) constant mess. Decades of moving from city ot city, of never being made into a vampire yet having a taste of his power whenever he eats some bugs, Renfield just wants a normal life. He joins a support group for co-dependents (led by the always charming Brandon Scott Jones), to try and get out from under Dracula's spell. But he's had a bad run-in with Teddy Lobo (Ben Schwartz), son of local crime boss Bellafrancesca Lobo (Shohreh Aghdashloo), which puts the last honest cop, Rebecca (Awkwafina), on his trail.
So far, so good, yes? Of course Renfield would need a support group, and there are some great jokes about what it's like to be in a co-dependent relationship when you're the one doing all the work. And why doesn't Dracula strive for more than just drinking blood? There is a lot being used through the metaphors of master and servant, what happens when we become accustomed to evil, when crime pays just a little too much, and how we lose ourselves when we become too obsessed with one person. And there are some fun kills. no doubt, particularly in a restaurant that looks to be providing Dracula with his perfect meal and Renfield with his nightmare. There are many fun moments (though not as many as the trailer might suggest).
There is no denying how much fun everyone is having, especially the two leads. Hoult is one of a handful of actors who became famous as a child, and channeled that fame into a fascinating career that includes a lot of genre films (see also Daniel Radcliffe, Kristen Stewart, and Elijah Wood). His comedic timing is great, he's a delight to watch, and he knows how to share the screen. Schwartz is the exact right level of smarmy dick. Aghdashloo is the perfect elegant and deadline Mafia Mamma, and even Awkwafina takes well to the atypical straight man role. And of course Cage was born for a role like this, eating this scenery like it's his last meal, and we love every minute of it.
But this cast and even the numerous one-liners that garner a hearty laugh are pretty evenly stacked (or arguably outstacked) by too many scenes where the energy drops. The opening montage to explain how Renfield ended up here is rushed and relies too much on the viewer having extensive knowledge of Dracula on film. While there are some very clever and wonderfully gross kills and a few choice locations for stand-offs, most of the actions shots are cut in that untra-fast way that seems deliberate to hide what was either badly executed or poorly constructed. And there are two fascinating moments of story promise with our Mafia Mamma (the silhouette of a body with various tubes attached in dreaded basement, a flirtation with Dracula that more than hints at familiarity), and these are just ... forgotten?
It might start off with a proverbial bang, but it ends with a combination of a whimper and a sigh of resignation,. If more time had been taken to strengthen the script, follow through on enticing plot devices, and make the action more substantial, this could have been a worthy addition to the cinematic Dracula oeuvre. As it is, even with its excellent cast, Renfield is only a somewhat enjoyable, and ultimately diappointing venture.
- Chris McKay
- Ryan Ridley
- Robert Kirkman
- Nicholas Hoult
- Nicolas Cage