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Mike Reyes

Renfield Review: Nicolas Cage Is Clearly Living His Best Afterlife In This Genre Mashup

Nicolas Cage delivering a charming stare in Renfield.

There are so many takes on the Universal Monsters canon at this point, and it’s exceedingly clear why. The legendary body of frightful figures is royalty in the horror genre, but trying to get the studio’s formerly bankable body of baddies back in the spotlight has been tricky amid the popularity of studios growing cinematic universes. Sometimes it works, and people start flocking to a film like The Invisible Man, while other attempts have left us with a Dark Universe that was planned but never executed. 

That climate was what fueled the initial reluctance I had toward director Chris McKay’s Renfield, as flame outs like Dracula Untold and The Mummy starring Tom Cruise are still pretty freshly remembered. The Nicolas Cage/Nicholas Hoult-led horror mashup doesn't let itself become intimidated by such history, as it plays within a number of genres and doesn't miss a beat to become a bloody delight that is frighteningly fun.

(Image credit: Michele K. Short/Universal Pictures)

Release Date: April 14, 2023
Directed By: Chris McKay
Written By: Ryan Ridley, based on an original idea by Robert Kirkman
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Nicolas Cage, Awkwafina, Ben Schwartz, Adrian Martinez and Shohreh Aghdashloo
Rating: Rated R for bloody violence, some gore, language throughout and some drug use
Runtime: 93 minutes

As Nicolas Cage is living his best afterlife playing the classic Dracula from Universal’s 1931 classic, Renfield focuses on his titular familiar (Nicholas Hoult), who has grown a bit tired of the minion lifestyle. Renfield starts to get a new lease on life through attending a support group and a budding romance with Awkwafina’s ambitious traffic cop, Rebecca Quincy. Pushing our complicated hero out of his shell, an attempt is made by the protagonist to escape the shadow of the most infamous vampire in history.

Of course, Dracula won’t take no for an answer, and some further obstacles force Renfield to fight for his freedom. It's here where Renfield really showcases its strengths, as a mashup of four separate genres somehow stays on track, providing a thrilling adventure comedy for those who are looking for some fresh blood on the big screen. 

Renfield is a charming, blood soaked horror-comedy hybrid that easily hops between genres.

Throwing action, romance, comedy, and horror into a blender, Renfield is a movie where a gesture of romance can (and does) consist of dismembering a man while riding his corpse to the ground. With a story and script developed respectively by The Walking Dead’s Robert Kirkman and screenwriter Ryan Ridley, the pivots to these various tones is done smartly. Blazing through a relatively short running time, energy is always present and moving the story and set pieces along in brisk fashion. 

It’s all thanks to the skeleton key that is Robert Montague Renfield, the character who sits at the dead center of this entertaining formula. A veteran of attacking all the required range in the role, Nicholas Hoult anchors the world of Renfield in a way that allows each component to thrive. While the romantic side is the slightest of the bunch, never really diving into anything too mushy, even that segment benefits from Hoult’s natural charms. 

Thinking longer on the mix of genres presented, Renfield doesn’t favor any particular vibe too prominently in its execution. Action, comedy, and horror all get the big moments to shine throughout, with a surprising amount of attention paid to the physical material. But I cannot stress this enough: Renfield is a gory spectacle that trades in quite a bit of dismemberment, kinetic action, and bloodletting. So if you’re squeamish, you’re probably going to have a bit of a time watching this picture. Even with that in mind, the moments in-between the kill floors on display are well worth it amidst your efforts to strategically cover your eyes at certain moments. 

Nicolas Cage sinks his teeth into Dracula, and it’s hard to take your eyes off of him.

Renfield is absurdly blessed with a roster that includes Ben Schwartz and Shohreh Aghdashloo, as well as the cast members previously mentioned above. On an ensemble level, Chris McKay and his bench of talent hit all the right notes from song sheets that call for varying tones. It’s impressive to behold considering the fact that in a movie that features Nic Cage, Schwartz’s portrayal of crime enforcer Teddy Lobo turns out being a loving tribute to another Cage landmark: Castor Troy from Face/Off.

But if one wants to single someone out of the Renfield supporting cast, it’s obviously going to be the head vampire in charge. Nicholas Cage is a performer who, while never phoning it in, is always easy to spot when he’s having fun. Readers, if this project was a juice box, or a delicious victim at the blood bank, Cage has certainly left it drained dry based on the delight you can read on his face throughout every moment he’s on screen. 

Performing through various evolving layers of prosthetic make-up, porcelain fangs, and even some voice-over mixed with what appears to be practical puppetry, Cage’s Dracula deserves much praise. Balancing a ruthless menace while also coming off as a jealous master that demands the total loyalty of their subordinate, the acting dance that Cage and Nicholas Hoult do on screen provides a strong core that allows Renfield to take all of the swings audiences could want. 

The internet rumors about Nicolas Cage being a vampire aren’t going to go away any time soon, as his Dracula is sure to glamour anyone who sits down to watch. Digging into the classic well that’s given the world many memes and scenes that have enriched the love for the actor, Renfield is a top tier Cage-stravaganza. 

Continuing a streak of all out genre-loving films, Renfield is further proof that fun has returned to the movies.

Universal has been on a hot streak as of late, with genre films like Violent Night, M3GAN, and Cocaine Bear delivering loud and wild entertainment to theaters. Renfield is squarely at home with those efforts, as it knows exactly the type of movie it is, and confidently wears that on its cape. Should you be a weirdo that wants to see a man assailing his opponents with someone else's arms, and then nailing them into a doorway with said arms, that specific bill is fulfilled and more.

We might not see a new shared universe resulting from the potential success of this picture, but there’s a chance that projects like Paul Feig’s Dark Army concept could see a boost (provided, of course, that the movie viewing public flocks to Renfield in proper droves). If anything should convince audiences and studio executives to become minions supporting this very cause, it has to be the dynamic pairing of the charmingly heroic Nicholas Hoult and the gleefully evil Nicolas Cage. 

In another, less assured era of filmmaking, this could have been a super serious attempt to bring the Universal Monsters back to life. While that model still works for moviegoers in certain measures, Renfield proves that the more colorful side of the Monsters spectrum still has a place in this world. It also stands as proof that even concepts that have waded through the development hell that was the Dark Universe can survive in one piece. You just have to have faith for it to work. 

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