In a world where the utterly iconic What We Do in the Shadows exists, it’s a real affront to the entire motion picture medium that a hacky, low-brow vampire-farce like Renfield somehow passes muster and makes its way onto our screens. Reanimating the corpse of the Dracula story for this “horror-comedy” – one that’s notably short on both horror and comedy – director Chris McKay (The LEGO Batman Movie, The Tomorrow War) mashes together the lowest common denominator (demon-inator?) of both mediums to make something that is almost entirely devoid of charm, joy, and a pulse.
Renfield, played by Nicholas Hoult doing all he can to make the role work, but mostly falling short, is Count Dracula’s familiar. This means corralling unsuspecting mortals for his master to suck dry, absconding from city to city when the bodycount gets too high, and generally doing the bidding of his evil, immortal master. Like dry-cleaning his cloak. Or… other things that the script fails to mention. Dracula is one element that McKay’s film gets right with a sharp-toothed Nicholas Cage playing up the campy antics that more often than not are smothered in cringy jokes or manic action scenes.
Bram Stoker would be rolling in his grave to see what his most lasting creation has become: the butt of a cheap joke about dependent relationships. Renfield’s one-dimensional pop psychology stance – Renfield is in a toxic work relationship with his boss – could have been the intriguing germ of a larger story about power dynamics but instead settles on taking the most broad, simple-minded approach possible. The script from Ryan Ridley (Rick and Morty, Community), reworking a story from Robert Kirkman of The Walking Dead fame, is utterly toothless, relying on lazy voice-over narration to tell us the internal feelings of the characters because McKay fails to translate any into the film’s text.
Renfield’s tiny town of big crime is populated by Awkwafina, appearing as the only uncorrupt cop in New Orleans, whose father was gunned down by the local crime family, the Lobos. Parks and Recreation’s Ben Schwartz is Edward Lobo, the spazzy fail-son of the Lobo organization and Shorhreh Aghdashloo attempts to bring a hint of gravity to the proceedings as the should-be intimidating head of the family, Bellafrancesca Lobo. Very little of it coalesces together and scenes string into scenes without a sense of continuity or momentum. The entire thing feels like a first draft with many characters and themes reflecting an overwhelming lack of care for detail. If you squint hard enough, you’d forget that this was even supposed to be a movie about vampires.
Renfield makes its 90 minute runtime feel like a small eternity, an ironic feat for a movie about having to endure an endless, purposeless existence. Though it occasionally summons a faint laugh, this… ain’t it. No amount of blood-soaked high-wire shoot-outs or shrieking comic beats can account for how utterly DOA McKay’s creation is. Forgot Renfield, the real victim here is the audience forced to endure a film that frequently repeats its very lame, very tame stable of jokes until they are completely drained of life.
CONCLUSION: Through no fault of a committed and campy Nicolas Cage, ‘Renfield’ is a stiff horror-comedy that never manages to be scary or funny, opting instead for an unwelcome onslaught of poorly assembled, uninspired action set pieces. Slapdash and loosely thatched together, the whole thing feels like an early draft that started rolling the camera before basic foundational aspects like ideas, dialogue, and characters were even remotely fully formed.