Nicholas Hoult is Renfield, a familiar, albeit in the vampire sense, to Nicolas Cage’s over-the-top Dracula. However, wrenched from the pages of Bram Stoker’s novel, his Renfield is not the simpering slave to a blood-sucking monster of old. No, if anything, Renfield is a bit done with the whole fetching of victims and disposing of corpses on behalf of his belligerent boss. No, he wants something more. He wants a normal life but Dracula it seems, won’t let him go that easily.
Nic Cage sets the screen alight with his fangs firmly set to operatic…
In the beginning, Renfield skulks off to toxic relationship therapy sessions, thinking that a) he can change his life and b) feed many of the group’s abusers to his always-hungry master. As he sees it, it’s a conscience-free crime whilst spreading some goodness around. However, Renfield’s subterfuge is about to be exposed when he eats some bugs, temporarily gains Dracula’s powers and kills a bunch of drug gang members. As you do, when you’re out for a quiet burrito. However, his John Wick-like moves don’t go unnoticed by super diligent cop Rebecca, as played by Awkwafina. Rebecca, you see, has anger management issues and Renfield keeps appearing at crime scenes for which he is accidentally responsible and the rest of the movie predictably plays out like this. Renfield comes clean. He asks Rebecca for help with Dracula and when the anger management cop and the rebellious Renfield finally square off against the dentally-delicious Nicolas Cage, claret hits the ceiling in a dozen different directions.
And that’s all good. Or rather it would be had Taika Waititi and Jermaine Clement’s What We Do In Shadows hadn’t gotten there first – but it did – and there’s the problem. Unfortunately, the rebellious-familiar-despairing-with-the-unreasonable-vampire(s) thing has already been done and done well, if not better. Harvey Guillén who plays the TV show’s hapless familiar gets a lot more screen time to channel vampiric angst than Nicolas Hoult’s ninety-three minutes – and it shows. With Hoult relegated to a younger Hugh Grant impression (which is pretty fricking marvellous, it has to be said), Renfield ends up being a movie with some dead spots when the laughs should gushing forth as it does on TV.
Yet, all this talk of comparisons is to ignore two blood-soaked elephants in the room. One! Nicola Cage IS Dracula! And that statement alone is a movie in its own right and it has to be said the Face-Off star doesn’t disappoint here. Flipping between Klaus Kinski’s wistful Nosferatu and something all the more boisterous yet burgundy, it’s never as hammy as it could have been and so – congrats to him – Nic Cage sticks the landing with a great flourish and aplomb. The second though is the movie’s scribe, Robert Kirkman, he of Walking Dead fame. With Kirkman being no stranger to shuffling corpses or dangling entrails, it feels strange that his next cop-in-the-middle-of-it storyline is so lightly penned (yes, I’m looking-at-you-here Rick Grimes). Sure, Awkwafina is doing what she’s asked to, and yes, it’s everything you’d imagine, but compared to 2019’s The Farewell, you know she deserves so much more when the part affords it to her.
So, whilst as a movie Renfield never really outpaces its lurking comparison to What We Do In Shadows, nor the plodding plot-line of a nasty gang meeting an even worse vampire via a familiar who only wants to be good, it’s still a decently executed affair. Saved by Nicolas Hoult’s gift for timing and a deft, deadpan sense of loss, Nic Cage sets the screen alight alongside him with his fangs firmly set to operatic as the mayhem falls where it may.