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‘Renfield’ Review: Dracula’s Servant Revived

Dir. Chris McKay - 3 Stars

Nicolas Cage plays Dracula and Nicholas Hoult plays Renfield in "Renfield."
Nicolas Cage plays Dracula and Nicholas Hoult plays Renfield in "Renfield." By Courtesy of EPK.TV
By Gwendolyn M. Ibarra, Crimson Staff Writer

There have been many different approaches to telling the story of Dracula over the years, from the 1931 cult classic “Dracula” starring Bela Lugosi to 1922’s chilling “Nosferatu.” Standing amongst the greats, “Renfield,” the 2023 film from director Chris McKay, is bound to disappoint some moviegoers. The movie attempts to pay homage to the horror genre but the script’s madcap interpretation of Dracula undermines the impressive set design and cinematography. McKay’s other directing credits include “The Lego Batman Movie” and “Robot Chicken,” which might provide context for the offbeat direction he takes his latest release.

“Renfield” stars Nicholas Hoult as Robert Montague Renfield, a young real estate agent that found himself trapped in pursuit of a deal with Count Dracula. The Prince of Darkness is played by none other than Nicholas Cage, funnily landing himself in his second vampire movie. The overall plotline of the story is poorly developed, but the movie’s visual aspects supply audiences with some semblance of continuity between overlapping storylines.

The background to the story is that Renfield is gifted special abilities and immortality on the condition that he caters to Dracula’s every need. The emotional impact of finding humans for Dracula to consume is the focus, a continuation of the central theme in Tod Browning’s “Dracula.” The pair take on modern-day America, where Renfield joins a “Dependent Relationship Anonymous Addiction Group” that forces him to face his codependent habits. Cinematographer Mitchell Amundsen, also known for his work on “Transformers” and “Odd Thomas,” masterfully contrasts the sterile bluish-green setting of the church where Renfield attends group therapy with the red hues of the dimly-lit abandoned hospital Dracula occupies.

The clever use of cinematography continues making strides at establishing the film’s exaggeratedly silly horror as Renfield progresses in his self-help journey and meets a young scrappy traffic cop named Rebecca, played by Awkwafina. The pair fight off the mother and son local crime lord duo Teddy and Bella-Francesca Lobo, played by Shohreh Aghdashloo and Ben Schwartz. These face-offs are sprinkled throughout the film, containing action shots which completely defy the laws of physics. In a bar fight scene, Renfield manages to completely sever the arms of an assailant using only a decorative platter and pure strength, in an excessive attempt at returning the movie’s focus to horror.

Where the actors’ jokes fall flat and the dialogue borders on predictability, the set design picks up the slack. The color palette and decoration of Renfield’s studio apartment, rented without his master’s approval, appear to be taken straight from a spring edition home decor magazine. The walls are littered with motivational posters and the energy feels almost ridiculously joyful considering the gory fight scenes the characters experienced just moments prior.

The various visual elements within “Renfield” reflect expert design and thought, but the film’s scattered story which bounces between wise cracks and over-the-top action has the potential to leave audiences feeling disheartened at best. Rather than trying to fit within the genres of horror, comedy, and action, perhaps “Renfield”' would have been better off sticking to just one.

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