The Movie Waffler New to VOD - RENFIELD | The Movie Waffler


Dracula's dogsbody attempts to leave his master's controlling clutches.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Chris McKay

Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Nicolas Cage, Awkwafina, Ben Schwartz, Shohreh Aghdashloo

Renfield poster

Though he had starred in movies previously, it was 1988's Vampire's Kiss that truly established Nicolas Cage's reputation for over the top but wildly entertaining performances. A precursor to American Psycho, the film satirised 1980s yuppie culture with Cage playing a literary agent who becomes convinced he's a vampire. Now Cage is playing an actual vampire, but not just any bloodsucker – Count Dracula himself. Director Chris McKay's Renfield gives Cage ample opportunity to ham it up as the Count, and it's not an opportunity the actor wastes. Whenever he's on screen you can't help but grin, even if Cage's schtick has gotten a little stale at this point.

The trouble is, Renfield isn't about Dracula, it's about his titular gopher, played here by Nicholas Hoult channeling Hugh Grant. As a youngster, Hoult got his big break playing alongside Grant in About a Boy, and it seems he was taking notes.

Renfield review

Renfield, which should really have been called "Dracula's Dogsbody", has a pretty good premise. What if Renfield grew tired of living under the thumb of his master and joined a support group for people stuck in toxic relationships? Well, it might be a pretty good premise for a comedy sketch but Renfield struggles to stretch this setup to feature length, even at a mercifully short 90 minutes.

Taking its cues from 1990s vampire comedies Innocent Blood and Vampire in Brooklyn, Renfield gets distracted with some hokum concerning mobsters. Having spent decades roaming the world looking for victims, Dracula and Renfield now find themselves in New Orleans, where the latter incurs the wrath of gangster Teddy Lobo (Ben Schwartz) and his mother (Shohreh Aghdashloo channeling Jessica Walter) after accidentally disrupting a drug deal. Also on the case is local cop Rebecca (Awkwafina), who is seemingly the only cop in the city not being paid to look the other way by the mob.

Renfield review

This leads to a lot of formulaic action scenes that follow the template established by director Matthew Vaughan in his Kick-Ass and Kingsman franchises, i.e. loud fast music playing over sped up, then slowed down, then sped up again action injected with a bit of crude visual comedy.

As we watch these monotonous set-pieces unfold, we're left to mourn the absence of Cage, who disappears completely for most of the movie. This leaves us in the company of Hoult and Awkwafina, who form a bond that the movie doesn't seem to know what to do with. It's mostly platonic, with some minor flirting being all you can expect in this infamously sexless era of Hollywood filmmaking. You can't help but wonder if the movie is reticent to have Hoult and Awkwafina hook up because American audiences are still uncomfortable with inter-racial relationships, or because Chinese audiences (and censors) are equally ignorant. Why pretend to care about diversity if you're still worried about offending bigots in Boise and Beijing? Anyhow, their relationship is a badly written and awkwardly played rehash of that between Eric Roberts' Marvel Comics employee and Megan Gallagher's cop in Larry Cohen's classic horror comedy The Ambulance.

Renfield review

Renfield is based on a story by Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, not a name you'd associate with laughs, which might explain why there are so few to be found here. Only Cage's performance prompts a giggle or two, especially when he's made up in heavy prosthetics to portray a half-dead Dracula, as the script is sorely lacking in witty zingers. Some of the bloodsucking gags are as stale as those found in the terminally unfunny George Hamilton vehicle Love at First Bite.

The highlight for horror fans will likely be an opening segment that inserts Cage and Hoult, Zelig-like, into scenes from Tod Browning's 1931 Dracula. With his pasty visage, Hoult is particularly convincing as the sort of blandly handsome leading man you might find in a 1930s horror movie. But if you've made a bad Dracula movie it's really not a good idea to kick things off by reminding audiences of one of the best Dracula movies.

 is on UK/ROI VOD now.

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