At this point in Nicolas Cage’s career, I think he is just playing characters that give him the freedom to ham it up as much as possible. For further evidence of what I am talking about, please refer to The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022). I did not see that one, but I did read Cameron’s review, as well as viewing the preview for it several times. That, and today’s film, Renfield, comprise some of his most recent work. I suppose he deserves some credit. Hey, if he can get paid for being insane on camera, then more power to him. I have no idea what he is like off-screen, nor am I concerned enough to do any research. I hope he is as good a person as one can hope to be after spending so many years among Hollywood’s A-listers. He is not even the protagonist in Renfield, but boy does he do his best to chew the scenery when he is present. As will hopefully become apparent from this review, this behavior is apropos.
The title Renfield tells you who the main character is, and it is not Nicolas Cage’s Dracula. Instead, that would be the eponymous role, the English lawyer turned real estate broker R. M. Renfield (Nicholas Hoult), henceforth just Renfield. He travels to Transylvania in the early twentieth century in the hopes of completing a land deal to enrich himself and his family, but instead falls under the spell of Dracula, becoming the famous vampire’s “familiar.” Technically, this means Renfield is Dracula’s servant, doing the things in daylight that the notoriously allergic to vitamin D blood suckers cannot do while the sun is out. In practice, Renfield is Dracula’s slave. Renfield has been given special powers by Dracula, which basically make him into an immortal super hero, at the cost of having to feed on bugs. A century later, and a missed opportunity to free himself of these onerous duties, and he is still at it. They have moved to modern day New Orleans, and he is tasked with finding Dracula “food.” Because Renfield feels guilty for essentially procuring murder victims, he tries to find other peoples’ “monsters.” To this end, he sits in on support group meetings for victims of abuse, listens to their stories, and goes to find the people responsible for hurting those in the group. We get a glimpse of this early as he locates an abandoned warehouse where the ex-boyfriend of one of the women is hiding out with a stash of drugs. There is an added problem, though, in that these illicit substances had been taken from the Lobo crime family. Renfield happens to show up at the ex-boyfriend’s location at the same time that Teddy Lobo (Ben Schwartz) sends an enforcer to kill these men. It does not make much of a difference to Renfield, who easily takes care of everyone with his familiar powers, taking a new round of victims to Dracula. Seeing Renfield in action, however, terrifies Teddy. In his haste to get away, he runs through a traffic stop that happens to be patrolled by Officer Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina). This is serendipitous for her because the Lobo family had been responsible for the death of her father, who was also a cop. Yet, she is disgusted when her department lets Teddy walk free a few hours later. Meanwhile, Renfield presents the bodies to Dracula, who is recovering from nearly being destroyed fairly recently. It is all relative in vampire years. In his grumpiness, he rudely rebuffs Renfield’s offerings. Thanks to all the meetings Renfield has been attending, he begins to realize that he, too, is in an abusive relationship. Grudgingly agreeing to go out to meet Dracula’s ridiculous (and heinous) demands, Renfield is sitting in a restaurant and bar when he sees Officer Quincy walk into the establishment. He immediately recognizes in her many qualities he admires, particularly her ability to stand up to the Lobo’s thugs sent there to kill her. As such, when the shooting begins, he decides to help her. Her example gives him the courage to separate from Dracula and begin living a normal life. Of course, Dracula and the Lobo family will not let these matters go unanswered. The mobsters want revenge on Renfield. They end up finding Dracula. The vampire makes short work of Teddy’s men, but spares Teddy when he offers his family’s resources for Dracula’s plans for world domination. This recent feeding has given Dracula much of his old strength back, and he is able to track down Renfield. Renfield attempts to assert his newfound freedom, but in his fear he shows Dracula the book he had taken from the support group. Now the undead killer has a new target, which he desires to visit as part of punishing his former servant. Renfield’s pleadings with the group for them to relocate go for naught when they inadvertently invite in Dracula. Renfield is left alive, being told that their deaths are on him. This is where Officer Quincy finds Renfield, and assumes that he is the one responsible for the gory mess. Unfortunately, when she brings out the cuffed Renfield, she discovers that the entire police department is working for the Lobo family, who are now under Dracula’s sway. Though Officer Quincy and Renfield manage to escape, they are soon found by Lobo henchmen and have to fight their way out once more. Later, she gets a phone call from the head of the mob, Bellafrancesca (Shoreh Aghdashloo), that they have her sister. Despite being an obvious trap, they travel to Lobo family headquarters. Anyway, bang, kick, punch, it all comes down to the inevitable showdown with Dracula. Through a bit of subterfuge, they manage defeat the ancient vampire. We close with Officer Quincy and Renfield talking to the miraculously revived support group, thanks to a bit of Dracula’s blood they managed to salvage.
The easiest thing to say about Renfield is that it is ridiculous. It does have its un-ridiculous aspects, though. I appreciated the way they presented Dracula and Renfield early on in their relationship, giving a nod to classic monster films with Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula. Indeed, you could squint your eyes and render Cage and Lugosi indistinguishable from one another. While that is sweet, you can keep the rest. I realize this is personal taste, but I like a story to have at least some semblance of sense. Every time the plot bumps up against something that could derail the insanity into trying to get you to think rationally for a breath or two, it cans that process and opts for more insanity. A perfect example of this is at the end when Officer Quincy and Renfield are killing Dracula. The film is self-aware enough to know that the audience is watching this play out and wondering which of the time-honored methods are going to be used to dispatch the vampire. It knows that you are going to rationalize it. Forget that! With a voice over from Renfield, he explains that there are a bunch of theories out there as to how to get rid of Dracula once and for all. Instead, they go for cutting up the body into as many little pieces as possible and disposing of it through a variety of means. If this is too esoteric of a criticism for you, then just know that it is excessively bloody. Taken together, they make the film a hard pass.
Though I can think of a million things I would rather do than ever see Renfield again, there are some points of interest for the Catholic reviewer. To be clear, it is not Renfield picking out supposedly victims that “deserve it.” Neither he or Dracula can know the true innocence of another. That is the sole purview of God. What I specifically appreciated as a Catholic is the oblique references to the goodness of the Church. At one point early on you have a person who looks like a bishop fighting to destroy Dracula. This is a small victory, but it is better than what you usually see, with them almost invariably being complicit with and/or powerless against evil. And make no mistake, Dracula is evil. He knows it, too, and among the people he recognizes as his polar opposite are nuns. Now, ask any nun these days and they would tell that they, like the rest of us, are sinners. To Dracula, they are as pure as the driven snow. The middle is where the truth lies with female religious, but with more of a lean towards purity. In the film, you see a group of them in the kind of establishment that you would not expect to see them patronizing. Nonetheless, they have a special commitment to God, hence the lean. It is a small morsel of goodness in an otherwise almost unbearable film.
Thus, unsurprisingly, I do not recommend Renfield. I did not laugh once. I also felt that Awkwafina looked bored throughout the entire film. Its best quality, if you can call it that, is its runtime. It mercifully clocks in at just a few minutes past an hour and a half.
One thought on “Renfield, by Albert W. Vogt III”