Alex Reviews "Renfield"
Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead) is a sick man with odd ideas, but they are entertaining. With Renfield, he performs a thought experiment on one of the original monsters of literature and film and making them a modern nightmare along with… you know, the bloodsucking. He then tells the story from the angle of his familiar (Nicholas Hoult) being the victim of Dracula (Nicolas Cage) as the terrible boss as the focal point who must navigate both the terror of working for the immortal monster as well as his incessant gaslighting. To be honest, I’m still not sure which would be worse. Ryan Ridley, who reteams with Kirkman after their success making Invincible, takes Kirkman’s stream of thought and turns it into a surprisingly nuanced narrative that also happens to be hilariously bat guano crazy (pun intended). While there are times that the dialogue seems clunky, it often comes across mildly charming and fits seamlessly with the excellent writing overall.
Taking that script and shooting a film that fits the story can be difficult, but Chris McKay (The Lego Batman Movie) does an amazing job constructing the film to both be a direct follow up to 1931’s Dracula somehow and an almost guerrilla filmmaking style that suits the film that much more highlighting an intimate, visceral nature while allowing them to utilize New Orleans for their needs with real locations. Despite the excellent work by the crew, there are so many ways Renfield could have fallen apart, with the key being in the performances. Luckily (or even more so on skill), every actor absolutely crushes their roles, though some in very unexpected ways.
Starting with Awkwafina, I should stop being surprised when she impresses in a role because she keeps doing it. Best known for comedy, she has also had amazing turns in more emotional or dramatic roles, and she taps into all of them here: drama, action, comedy, and horror in under 90 minutes. Even though this should feel like an indecisive, awkward performance, it always feels on point for every scene as she anchors the story beautifully.
Nicholas Hoult continues to be a powerhouse of a performer and an unquestionable star. I could easily tell even within the trailer exactly how his character will be portrayed as the scapegoat and glutton for Dracula’s punishment. Even knowing this going it, what I was most impressed by here is his physical performance, nailing the emotional aspects while displaying his ability to portray small and meek despite towering over every other member of the cast.
Now for the main event: Ben Schwartz (Sonic the Hedgehog)! No, I’m kidding, but although Schwartz continues to have a great career just playing himself in a multiversal way in everything and I love it, I’m talking about Cage of course. As he said (paraphrased) in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, “Nic Friiiiiggggiiiinnnggg Cage!” has been open and clear that Dracula is one of the three characters he has wanted to play his entire career. He wanted this one so much that he even broke his normal rule of not doing a movie where he is not the main character, and I am glad he did because he is magnificent here! Letting him go full Cage as the “Lord of Darkness” played everywhere from laugh-out-loud funny to absolutely terrifying. I actually wanted more of him in the movie, but I wonder if that is the intent.
Renfield may not win any prestigious awards, but there is a special place for films like it that we all know and love. It is those low stakes (pun not intended) films that we can put on at any time, whether it be for background noise or to curl up on the couch for a good laugh, this will definitely be a go-to for me for the foreseeable future.