Tuesday, 16 May 2023

Renfield (2023)

I was eager to see Renfield as soon as the trailer for it dropped. Well, to be more accurate, I was eager to see Renfield as soon as I heard of Nicolas Cage being cast as Dracula. Seeing the on-set photographs, and THEN finally seeing the trailer, made this a film that I knew I couldn’t miss. I knew a lot of people who felt the same way, which then made me sad to see the reaction to it eventually start to cool. Perhaps it just hadn’t managed to fulfill the promise of that glorious potential.

Ah well, everyone disappointed by this is wrong (please note sarcasm, everyone is entitled to their own informed opinion). Renfield is as fantastic as you want it to be.

It’s the story of Renfield (Nicholas Hoult), as the title suggests. Tired of working tirelessly to protect and feed his vampiric master (Cage), Renfield starts to make plans to live a more free, and healthier, life. Dracula doesn’t want that, of course, and there’s an inevitable confrontation looming. There’s also a confrontation looming between a major crime family (headed up by Shohreh Aghdashloo, trying to keep her cocky son, played by Ben Schwartz, in check) and a police officer (Awkwafina) who ends up being helped massively by Renfield and his super-powers. Oh yeah, this Renfield can gain super-powers whenever he eats a bug or two.

The main draw here, for most people anyway, is Cage playing Dracula, and his performance is absolutely superb. Although this is a horror comedy, with a lot of the humour coming from wildly over the top gore, the leads generally play things straight, which is a winning approach. Cage is brilliantly riffing on classic portrayals of Dracula, adding some extra tetchiness as he maintains an increasingly-strained relationship with his young servant, and he always feels as dangerous as he should. Hoult is a standard lovable loser, he just happens to be burdened with a boss even worse than anyone that most of us have had to work for, and he acquits himself equally well in the action moments that allow him to tear people apart with his bare hands. Awkwafina also plays her part pretty straight, although she has a natural dry wit that works well as part of her character, and Aghdashaloo is a straightforward criminal matriarch. Schwartz is the main person allowed to play his part in line with most of his other comedic roles, but that feels fine for Schwartz, someone I like who maybe isn’t quite ready yet to stretch himself as much as some other actors. I also need to mention Brandon Scott Jones, a comedic highlight as the leader of a support group visited by Renfield, and special mention to the cast members playing the members of that group, every one of them doing their bit to add great comedy to their scenes.

Ryan Ridley gets the main script credit, helped by both Robert Kirkman and Ava Tramer, and the main thing he gets right is simply not fumbling the brilliant idea at the heart of the film - Renfield and Dracula viewed as two people caught in a very toxic relationship. There are amusing lines here and there, and the bloody set-pieces to enjoy, but most of the fun comes from dialogue for Renfield that has more literal meaning than anyone else suspects. Well, admittedly, the MOST fun is watching someone use a couple of severed limbs as a makeshift set of nunchucks, but the dialogue throughout is pretty great, full of smart and sly subversions of phrases we have heard used many times from people offering advice on different types of relationships.

Director Chris McKay continues his successful movie streak, and shows his skill for playing around with iconic figures (as he also did so brilliantly with The LEGO Batman Movie), and there’s some ideal universe where this film made a shedload of cash and already had a sequel greenlit. Every character gets a moment to shine, and that includes very minor characters, the perfect runtime helps the pacing, and everything makes sense in the context of the relative silliness of it all. 

While I can understand some people not enjoying this, and more fool them, I cannot understand anyone who enjoyed the trailer, and the concept of this cast telling this story, somehow not appreciating the final result. Even if they don’t love it as much as me.


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