RENFIELD [Film Review]: Sink Your Teeth Into This.

J.L. Caraball

Jumping the gun on spooky season by…oh, only about half a year…director Chris McKay has gifted us masses with a bloody, hilarious, action-packed movie that has just as many laughs as it does gallons of blood. Having missed the Q&A session earlier in the week, I made my way to Lower Manhattan’s ever-reliable Alamo Drafthouse for their themed screening of Renfield. Paired with some drinks, and some vampire fangs, we sat back to see what all the fuss was about.

Told from the perspective of his long-suffering slave/familiar/servant, the titular Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) relocates himself and his master, Count Dracula (Nicolas Cage) to New Orleans, following an incident in which several vampire hunters nearly got the better of the pair. While Renfield uses his daytime hours to try to deal with the abusive toxicity of his relationship to Dracula, members of the Lobo crime family—eager to push their weight around the burgeoning drug business—are on the hunt for the person responsible for offing (and disappearing) several dealers and soldiers. Unbeknownst to Renfield, one night he inadvertently offed some of the foot soldiers of the Lobo family, attracting their attention, especially that of the wild card heir, Teddy Lobo (Ben Schwartz), who makes it his mission to track down the person responsible for stepping into the family business. Renfield — in his quest to rid himself of Dracula’s influence — befriends a traffic cop, Rebecca Quincy (Akwafina), which draws Dracula’s ire. Will their paths intertwine?! Well, this movie isn’t an hour-and-a-half for no reason.

Director Chris McKay already proved himself to having an eye for comedy in his tenure directing episodes of Moral Orel, and Robot Chicken. Here, his effervescent energy translates as easily to live action as it did for stop motion animation. He and cinematographer Mitchell Amundsen have an incredibly fun visual feast early on when together they recreate the earliest incarnations of Bram Stoker‘s creation, including an almost shot-for-shot remake of several scenes of director Tod Browning‘s 1931 classic (easily the second funniest sequence). Hoult is believable enough as the put-upon familiar to the undead count, and Akwafina seems to recreate her performance in Shang-Chi, only a lot less shrill, and much more human.

Alamo Drafthouse has the best menu.

Nicolas Cage knocks it out of the fucking park as Dracula though. At once terrifying and hilarious, this is just as unhinged as his other vampire role from Vampire’s Kiss, only here he is firmly and without a doubt a capital-V Vampire. He keeps the scene-chewing just this side of toned down, making him somehow both more hilarious and increasingly more creepy and terrifying. Take for instant a scene in the near the later half of the second act, where Dracula figures out that Renfield has betrayed him: he meets Renfield in his apartment to confront him, and plays the scene at once betrayed, hurt, and in an infuriated rage, barely controlled, but he’s unable to process any of those emotions, so just acts out like some crazed beast (which, yes, he is). It is genius to cast Cage in this role, as a creature who is experiencing the entire breadth of human emotions, but is utterly incapable of understanding or even process any of them.

Ooops…wrong Nic Cage vampire movie…

This is a fun, gory piece of fluff, readily available to add to my wife and my Halloween canon viewing. The gore is gory, the action is fairly impressively staged and shot, and odd as it might sound while it’s happening, I will never tire of hearing Ben Schwartz dropping F-bombs. This would be an interesting double feature with the aforementioned Vampire’s Kiss: there, a human is trying to comprehend vampire emotions, and here, the greatest of all vampires is STILL trying to understand human emotions. That both feature the same actor playing the flip side of the equation is apt.

4/5 murder cookies

Renfield is currently streaming.