Renfield (2023)

Rating: C

Dir: Chris McKay
Star: Nicholas Hoult, Nicolas Cage, Awkwafina, Ben Schwartz

I’m really not sure quite how I feel about this. I was adequately entertained, and it does offer a new angle on vampire mythology, concentrating on Dracula’s minion, Redfield (Hoult). This uses his relationship with his master as a metaphor for toxicity in general, with Dracula (Cage) a controlling narcissist, and Renfield a codependent who is willing to sacrifice anything personally, to sustain the partnership. Oddly, the story is laid out within the context of horror-comedy, with copious volumes of splattery gore being thrown around, whenever either master or servant go into action. Yet the depiction is executed in a way which feels a bit inconsistent with its subject matter – that seems to want to be taken seriously.

The story sees Dracula and Renfield settling in New Orleans, though after a century in thrall, Renfield has had enough and is attending a support group for those in destructive relationships. This brings him into conflict with Tedward Lobo (Schwartz), scion of the crime family who run the city. Through taking on Lobo, Renfield begins to recover his own self-esteem, only for Dracula to recruit Tedward as a new sidekick, as he works towards his goal of world domination. There’s a little of Innocent Blood here, in the combination of organized crime and vampirism, though neither element here are likeable. Renfield is very much the protagonist, and that might be the problem. Hoult is vastly overshadowed by his co-stars, particularly Cage, operating in full Cage mode. It’s a throwback of 35 years to his unhinged performance in Vampire’s Kiss. Less bug eating, admittedly.

Tacked on is another subplot involving local cop Rebecca (Awkwafina), whose trying to fight departmental corruption, take down the Lobos, and mend fences with her sister, an FBI agent. I actually quite liked all of this, it just never meshed with the vampire stuff. In tone, the movie feels like it exists in the same universe as something like Day Shift, and if you told me this was a Netflix Original as well, I would have believed you. It has a high concept, decent production values and cuts a great trailer. It’s also not likely to stick in the mind. Beyond Cage, there’s a good set piece involving a police assault on the apartment where Renfield and Rebecca are hiding out. That’s about it.

On this basis, I can kinda see why this flopped badly at the box-office, with a worldwide gross of less than half its budget. It’s nice that the makers did opt for a hard approach, rather than going the frequent, more commercial PG-13 rating. Again though, this is somewhat at odds with a film which is frequently lighthearted in tone – contrast, say, the likes of Evil Dead Rise, which feels a better use of an R. The studio keep trying to reboot their horror universe, with underwhelming results. The Mummy provoked similar feelings of mere adequacy and, I see, received the same C grade. Must try harder, Universal.