3 out of 5 stars

Chris McKay’s pseudo-sequel to Dracula (1931) has an interesting concept for a horror-comedy, with manservant Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) having a crisis of conscience and attending support groups to try and untangle himself from the toxic relationship he’s in with Count Dracula (Nicolas Cage). Although even the group Renfield’s meeting with was initially just a means to find the whereabouts of bad people, who at least deserve to be sucked dry by a vampire.

The amusing but slim concept behind Renfield isn’t enough to sustain even a 93-minute movie, but the film’s greatest weakness is a failure to realise we’re here to see Nicolas Cage play Dracula. This marks Cage’s return to a major studio release since the flop of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011) pushed him into more arthouse and low-budget cult films, so there’s undoubted joy in getting to see Cage reprise his infamously awful transatlantic accent from Vampire’s Kiss (1988) and chew the scenery with an impressive set of shark-like teeth.

Cage’s peculiar take on Dracula doesn’t hit the heights one expects it to, but that’s primarily because the screenplay doesn’t give him enough opportunities to flex his muscles. Renfield is, naturally, more about Dracula’s insect-eating accomplice rediscovering his humanity after meeting a tetchy traffic cop called Rebecca (Awkwafina) and getting embroiled in New Orleans’ underworld via her attempts to avenge her father’s murder at the hands of the Lobo crime family.

Nicholas Hoult (The Menu) has the responsibility of carrying this movie on his shoulders, despite a scene-stealing Cage hovering in the background, and he does a commendable job. Renfield is a sweet-natured and old-fashioned man it’s easy to feel sympathy for, even if he’s helped the Prince of Darkness murder countless thousands of people over the past hundred years! The problem is Hoult doesn’t get much to do that’s interesting, as Renfield’s relationship with Rebecca seems to ditch any romantic overtones (perhaps because the director realised Hoult has no sexual chemistry with Awkwafina), so they quickly become more like friends.

The horror-comedy intentions are also on shaky ground, as this isn’t a particularly funny script, or frightening in any meaningful way. It feels rather more like a Marvel superhero hero, only if tearing arms off to unleash geysers of blood was a move Captain America could make.

The action sequences are fairly impressive if you don’t hold it to the gold standard of John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023), or even a fairer comparison with fellow vampire flick Day Shift (2022). There’s a kinetic energy to everything that helps with the fight choreography, and it’s certainly a fun idea to have Renfeld briefly gain Popeye-style strength whenever he eats bugs instead of spinach. The best action scene takes place around a studio apartment complex, with dozens of thugs being torn asunder as arterial blood sprays everywhere, eventually resulting in a large pile of corpses.

The storytelling is where things also get shaky, as Chris McKay wrongly focuses on Renfield and Rebecca’s situation with the Lobo family—run by urbane matriarch Bellafrancesa (Shohreh Aghdashloo) and her annoying son Teddy (Ben Schwartz). I was frustrated they take time away from more scenes between Renfield and Dracula. To be fair, the third act pulls things together in a compelling manner once Dracula realises gangsters make better familiars, but it’s still strange that Renfield doesn’t focus on the relationship at the heart of the premise. Maybe that’s why it feels like a $65M action horror film more than it does a character-led comedy with a supernatural spin on a codependent relationship gone sour. Imagine if What We Do in the Shadows (2014) suddenly decided it wanted to be Blade (1998) halfway through.

Renfield certainly isn’t terrible or a struggle to watch, as the gruesome violence doesn’t pull its punches and Nicolas Cage is having a ball channelling various classic performances for his rendition of Dracula. It’s a shame he’s not occasionally the suave aristocrat one still expects thanks to Bela Lugosi (a version of the character he’s technically playing outright), before revealing a more predatory side, but Cage nevertheless brings his eccentric personality to bear. Some of his line readings are more like Elvis the King of Rock and Roll, than Dracula King of the Vampires.

Hoult is effortlessly charming and Ben Schwartz (Sonic the Hedgehog) injects life into the humour of his scenes, more so than a slightly lost-looking Awkwafina manages, but ultimately you come away from Renfield with very mixed feelings. It’s not without its fun and excitement, but it needed to be funnier and more focused on the crucial Renfield/Dracula dynamic.

The addition of Rebecca and the mob is necessary to give the story somewhere new to go once the premise is set up and largely milked dry for laughs, but they’re not handled particularly well and end up making Renfield feel both overstuffed and undercooked. There was a more appealing and intimate comedy here with Hoult and Cage bouncing off each other in a struggle for independence, but Renfield ends up putting more of a priority on the super-powered fights and bloodshed.


frame rated divider universal

Cast & Crew

director: Chris McKay.
writer: Ryan Ridley (story by Robert Kirkman; based on characters created by Bram Stoker).
starring: Nicholas Hoult, Nicolas Cage, Awkwafina, Ben Schwartz, Adrian Martinez & Shohreh Aghdashloo.