"Renfield" Film Review
By: Nathaniel Simpson
Dracula is one of the most famous and influential monsters in cinematic history, dating back as far as 1922's "Nosferatu". Since then, he has been portrayed by a slew of fantastic actors throughout the years, including Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Gary Oldman, and many more. So, personally, I was ecstatic when Nicholas Cage was announced as being the next Dracula in the Chris McKay directed film, "Renfield". Starring alongside Nicholas Hoult and Awkwafina, I thought this movie had the potential to be a great new monster film that could kick start a new era in the Monster Universe for Universal. While it is enjoyable and the actors present give pretty good performances, I was sort of disappointed by what the final product is in terms of pacing and the overall story.
Renfield (Hoult) catches everyone up to speed in the first scene in the film, showing how he was turned into Count Dracula's personal assistant almost one hundred years ago (the recreation of some of the scenes from the 1931 film with Lugosi using Cage and Hoult were phenomenal), and now he must take care of his new master's every whim. However, over the past few years, he has begun to feel unfulfilled with his life serving his undead master, and is constantly looking for something to make him feel useful and fulfilled in his life.
When he does find something and wants to leave the whole vampire life behind, he decides to settle down in New Orleans, and live a life that was taken from him all those years ago. When Dracula finds out about this, he is far from happy, and makes it his personal mission to end Renfield once and for all as his servant has disobeyed him. Alongside the Lobo crime family, Dracula is ready for world domination, but Renfield and his new cop friend, Rebecca (Awkwafina) stand in his way.
Easily the best thing about this movie is the performances. Cage and Hoult really embody the roles of Dracula and Renfield, respectively. They are fun and engaging characters, and in Cage's case, he is able to use inspiration from other Draculas to craft his own take on it. There are hints of Lee, Oldman, and Lugosi in his performance, while he is also totally making it his own. There is something about this Dracula that can just easily remind you of Cage and who he is as a person off the screen.
Renfield, on the other hand, was a great new addition to a Dracula film. Sure, the other movies have had him as a supporting character, but this is the first time we actually see him as a major player in one of these films. Not only does Hoult do a fantastic job (and has stellar chemistry with Awkwafina), but his character is just a very charming and fan-favorite player in the story. It honestly makes me wish we had gotten more of Renfield in the previous films because there is so much to unpack concerning his character. I would also say that Hoult and Cage have great on-screen chemistry and a fantastic presence together that I wish we had gotten more of in this movie.
While the performances are great and fun, and the comedy usually lands, this movie suffers from two major flaws - the story and the pacing. The story is very simple and basic, and doesn't really allow for the film to set up its characters and main conflict before immediately jumping into the conclusion. It feels very unfinished in a way, like this is a rough draft they present before they start to finalize the movie. There is no real emotional connection the audience has towards any of the characters, and when they want us to feel a certain way about a certain event, it doesn't land very well.
I think this could have been forgiven more if the pacing was better. The ending was sort of slower, seemingly muddling its way through the introduction of the characters. Then we get one epic fight sequence (which all are done very well here), and then bam, the conclusion is starting. So the beginning is extremely slow at times just to rush the middle and ending? I honestly wish the filmmakers settled some of their flaws first before starting production on this movie as I truly think this could have been a fantastic monster movie based on its premise and casting alone.
This film is far from being bad; in fact, I enjoyed watching it and thought the humor was great, alongside the performances. This is definitely not one of the best monster movies ever created, but I think the filmmakers weren't concerned with that. If they were set out to just make a very enjoyable and cheesy comedy movie that has Nicholas Cage in such a pivotal role, well then I think they did a great job. However, it's nothing to write home about unfortunately. It's just middle of the road quality here.