When you allow an actor like Nicolas Cage to completely let loose, it’s almost guaranteed that the performance will be wild, over the top, and full of scenery chewing. And that’s exactly what you get here with Renfield, which features the Oscar-winning actor giving a sinisterly terrific iteration of Count Dracula.
While the movie is titled after the familiar of Count Dracula, the main draw that advertisers utilized for Renfield is, obviously, Cage’s performance. He’s built his own brand of gonzo acting over the past 40 years to where it’s impossible for him to get typecasted. Unless there’s a category of typecasting known as “Cage-like characters.” And while there isn’t quite as much of Cage’s performance as one may expect, the movie itself goes hard into its R-rating with buckets of blood covering the screen and enough slapstick situations to make it thoroughly enjoyable, albeit not for the squeamish.
Robert Montague Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) is, as stated above, Dracula’s familiar. He’s the one who brings Dracula all the innocent people for his boss to feed on and does whatever chores he’s expected to do. And there’s a reason it must be innocent people, as the movie shows Dracula having a bad reaction to feasting on some drug dealers.
Renfield is kind of immortal himself as well. For him to have great strength to fight back against vampires, he has to eat bugs. This comes in handy when he has to fend off some vile creatures and other evil figures later on in the film. But most of his time is spent doing the chores for Dracula. And Renfield feels the relationship he has with his boss is becoming toxic and he wants out. It’s not quite as easy as one expects, though, as Dracula is narcissistic and co-dependent on Renfield to do everything for him.
The movie, directed by Chris McKay (The Lego Batman Movie), briefly begins to explore the realm of how someone can emotionally and psychologically break free from an abusive relationship. Hoult’s voiceover narration goes through more of the details of how Renfield feels about his relationship, and kind of has a My Name is Earl vibe to it. Normally, this approach can be grating, but it kind of works here. And Hoult is enjoyable in his performance.
There are scenes in which Renfield visits a support group and takes their advice outside of the meeting before Dracula calls him out. But writer Ryan Ridley (TV’s Rick & Morty and Community) barely scrapes the surface before more blood splatters on the screen. There’s even a joke about how every time Renfield enters the room to explain his situation, he interrupts the same person who’s trying to tell her story.
The movie breaks away from being about Dracula and Renfield’s relationship to then becoming a film about Rebecca (Awkwafina, being her typical self), a New Orleans police officer who is seeking revenge on the city’s most powerful and corrupt family, the Lobos. But Rebecca is supposedly the only police officer who isn’t corrupt, and the Lobos family, spearheaded by the matriarch Bellafrancesca (Shorhreh Aghdashloo) and aided by her failure of a son Tedward (Ben Schwartz), get off scot-free on every occasion.
McKay and Ridley bring the two stories together, but it doesn’t quite meld as smoothly as one would hope. At times, Renfield becomes a bit uneven in its approach. In one instance, it will feel more like it’s focused on the crime story and become this silly cop comedy. It will then switch back to the vampire story and put a lot of attention on being a silly vampire comedy.
The more intriguing element of Renfield is the vampire story, which has bodies explode into smithereens in the first few minutes of the movie and then later shows bodies ripped in half in comical fashion. The mixture of practical effects and CGI is almost a bit too much, with a lot of the blood looking more digitized than true horror enthusiasts would appreciate. But McKay’s silly approach makes the film a fun, light romp with Cage’s rendition of Dracula being the top mark of the film.
Renfield comes to Blu-ray from Universal Pictures with a 2.39:1 aspect ratio presentation, which captures all of the gore and chaos exquisitely. It looks good at home, even if you’re someone who will have to occasionally turn away when some of the blood becomes a bit much. The audio track is a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track and brings the dialogue and sound effects across clearly.
There is roughly one hour’s worth of bonus features, which mostly consist of deleted and extended scenes, as well as some alternate takes on certain moments in the film. Some of the alternate takes are interesting to see where McKay and team had thought of taking the film, and it might have worked with the movie. There is one deleted scene that features Renfield breaking out in dance, and it’s a bit cringy and overdone – hence why it didn’t make it into the final film.
Other features include behind the scenes looks at the making of the film, interviews with cast and crew, and how the makeup and effects department worked to get Cage in his full get-up. They’re fun to watch, but also feel a bit standard. Lastly, there’s a commentary track for the film with producer Samantha Nisenboim, screenwriter Ryan Ridley, and other crew members.
Renfield may not be as clever as Taika Waititi’s hilarious mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, but it’s hard to not enjoy the film’s goofy approach and especially Cage’s wild performance. Take it for what it is, flaws and all, and you’ll have a bloody good time.
Renfield releases to Blu-ray & DVD on June 6, 2023.