Movie review: Renfield - out for The Count
Horror comedy in a rich vein of form…
For those of you with TikTok savaged attention spans, here’s our elevator review — Renfield feels like a dialled-up, unashamedly brazen Dusk Till Dawn and Brooklynn Nine-Nine crossover project with Nicholas Cage as an archetypal Dracula and Nicholas Hoult on ghoulishly good form, and it’s gorily, cartoonishly-violently, brilliant.
Title of your Scotch tape
Most of us have experienced a toxic relationship at some point in our lives. It could have been a romantic entanglement, an unhealthy workplace dynamic, or just siblings lighting the touch-paper of familial trauma in a way that only people who sleep in horizontally tiered bedding can. There’s usually asymmetry within the tryst, one partner being the more toxic (obviously not you), but the truth is — this sort of relationship can only exist for as long as there is a codependent element to it. There must be an enabler.
It takes two to fang-go
That relatively dense psychological premise (codependence) — its identification and eventual rejection of — forms a large part of the spinal column of Renfield. It’s a Dracula (Cage) movie, a nouvelle vague Nosferatu feature that feasts on the rich narrative vein of what sort of effect bestowing immortality on a loyal servant (Renfield, played by Hoult), might have. A gift that was coercively sold on a platform of gaslighting, false promise and pyramid scheming. It’s a live autopsy on how feelings of resentment, mistreatment and being undervalued might ferment into an unhealthy, employer-employee relationship.
At the beginning of the film we’re given a whistlestop monochrome montage of Dracula movies through the ages with Nicholases Cage and Hoult’s characters superimposed onto the frame. Renfield has been a part of Dracula lore since the jump, appearing in the OG Emo source text — Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula, and a good percentage of the celluloidal reimaginings since. As you might expect from a movie that trades under the character’s name, this story is largely seen through the eyes and set to the monologuing of arch lord of the undead manservant, Renfield.
A lot at stake
Our tale unfolds in the modern era, being over a century old now it’s an epoch the two central characters are struggling to adapt to. And, in addition to his shortcomings as a nurturing boss (honestly, the state of those one-on-one evaluations), it’s widely known that the malicious old Count also suffers from a severe sunlight allergy, and because of PTSD from attempted wooden stakings, EpiPens are not an option.
So it’s Renfield who is delegated the task of going out and sourcing victims to feed the Transylvanian tyrant’s bloodlust (and life force). He finds a ready supply in the souls that force individuals into emotional support groups. But it’s an occupation that becomes immeasurably more complicated when Renfield’s recruitment project inadvertently overlaps with the operations of a local gang boss (Teddy, played by Ben Schwartz) and a principled, maverick cop (Rebecca Quincy, played by Awkwafina).
Renfield runs thick with themes of love and duty, and little Freudian tickles under the chin — a treatment on manipulation, Stockholm Syndrome of the mind, self-empowerment, and catharsis. But, at its blood-flushed heart, it’s a horror comedy, that celebrates each side of that dual heritage with a reverence, than can only come from a true love of the genres.
Each cast member brings their own form of humour to the movie, there’s the menacing self-aware gothic camp of Cage’s Dracula; the chaotic pratfalling gangster Teddy is ostensibly a ‘made-guy’ version of Jean-Ralphio (Schwartz’s character in Parks and Rec) and fully deserves his own spin off.
Awkwafina’s comic timing and rapid fire delivery is demonstrative of a craft master; but it’s the wryly-dry Britishness of Nicholas Hoult that impresses most. Like discovering your perfectly serviceable striker just happens to be a brick wall goalkeeper in comedy, it appears we’ve stumbled upon optimal Hoult. Despite a decidedly straight and serious filmography, Hoult’s final form might just be ‘comic actor’.
The final nail in the coffin
Renfield flows in tangents and sparks with farce, it’s pepper sprayed with incredible fight sequences choreographed in deliberately audacious violence. Cockroaches and bug viscera are to Renfield, what spinach is to Popeye. And after powering up, we’re showered in comic splatter and gore galore, there’s even a moment where a pair of aggressors are kebabbed by the ripped-off arms of another foe. And that feels like as good-a-place as any to leave this review.
Verdict: They had us with ‘Nicholas Cage’ as Dracula, but in truth the movie goes so much deeper. It’s amongst the best new additions to what is a hotly contended sub genre (horror comedy), and we only hope that we haven’t seen the last of Renfield.
Renfield is available to watch in cinemas across the UAE from April 27.
Interview with a Vampire
What’s On in conversation Ben Schwartz
What’s On: Your character is a bit of a loveable rogue, if he was to get his own spin off, or prequel, what would it be called?
Ben Schwartz: His first name is ‘Tedward’ so I think the show would be called that, just because I think it’s the stupidest name I’ve ever heard, his name is literally Tedward ‘Teddy’ Lobbo and I think the focus is the origin story of when he first meets Dracula and gets these powers, every great villain needs one — like when Joker gets his smile.
WO: How much flexibility did Chris McKay (the director) and the team give you with developing the character?
BS: They gave me quite a bit. Once I got the role and we started chatting about stuff, we kind of worked on it together. But the biggest leniency they gave me was in the scenes themselves, Chris would let me improvise in just about every scene, so we’d do it as is, then we’d find little moments, that weren’t in the script — and explore those, and that was fun my background is in improv, so it was very fun to use those muscles.