“Renfield:” DOA and Hating It.

Few villains in any medium of storytelling are quite as iconic as Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula, also known as The Prince of Darkness, also known as Vlad the Impaler, also known as The Dark One, etc. (he has an Erykah Badu level of alter egos), and has such been portrayed on the big and small screen time-and-time again to varying degrees of success. From Bela Lugosi to Christopher Lee to Gary Oldman and even to Luke Evans’s turn in 2014’s doomed reboot Dracula Untold, and this doesn’t even touch the amount he has been portrayed in Konami’s Castlevania series of video games, and also their Netflix anime, taking on Dracula isn’t something Hollywood is shy with, but at this point, for as many iconic takes on the vampire of all vampires there are, doing one that’s simply okay, or worse, bad, is something people take notice of. As such, since the material has been done to death, most takes on the material now exist in retellings, from family fare like Hotel Transylvania (2012) to new novels that retell much of the story from other perspectives to new films such as The Last Voyage of the Demeter, which explores the macabre journey Dracula embarked on in Stoker’s novel (which I am excited for, on paper, but need to see some footage), and now, Universal, cashing their Dracula license with Renfield, looks to twist Stoker’s vision of the iconic villain even further and with an iconic actor at the helm.


L-R: Dracula (Nicolas Cage) and Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) in RENFIELD, directed by Chris McKay. Photo courtesy of Michele K. Short/Universal Pictures.

Renfield is exactly the reason why I refuse to actually say I’m excited for The Last Voyage of the Demeter without footage, because Renfield also sounded like something great on paper, but couldn’t be more of the opposite.

Robert Montague Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) has acted as Count Dracula’s (Nicolas Cage) familiar for over a century now, fetching him victims for feeding, defending him against forces that seek to stamp The Lord of Darkness out, and generally being the Count’s codependent companion after leaving his family over 100 years ago to be this. Now, in present day New Orleans, Renfield is despondent with his toxic relationship with his vampire employer, and when attempting to source a victim for Dracula from the abusive boyfriend of a member in his codependency support group, Renfield finds himself wrapped up in a power struggle between a violent crime family in New Orleans headed by mother and son Bellafrancesca (Shohreh Agdashloo) and Teddy Lobo (Ben Schwartz), and plucky New Orleans police officer Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina). When Dracula discovers Renfield’s assistance in helping the innocent Rebecca fight against parallel forces of darkness, his wrath is unleashed upon New Orleans.


L-R: Chris (Adrian Martinez) and Rebecca (Awkwafina) in RENFIELD, directed by Chris McKay. Photo courtesy of Michele K. Short/Universal Pictures.

I usually like to take the time to be semi-eloquent in my thoughts surrounding films that I get the opportunity to see early and review, because I’m never not thankful for that, and I know that filmmakers put a ton of work into these movies I get to see, but I have to forego that to simply get the one thought in my head out that Renfield is bad. It’s really really bad. It’s sometimes bafflingly bad in how outdated, unfunny, uncreative, unattractive, and unentertaining it is. It’s an amalgamation of slapstick “Well that just happened…” humor that, I’m not kidding, starts with the “*record scratch* You’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation” line in essence that absolutely lets you know exactly the type of outdated humor that the film is bogged down with from start to finish. There are entire segments poking fun at Ska music, and even a genuine Tumblr joke in the screenplay that is supposed to be some current joke about social media but is absolutely stuck on 2012 Facebook. I poke fun at so many other films for trying so hard to make humor of “the moment” and missing a trend by a few months as the social media cycle moves at such a breakneck speed, but there’s something almost jarring about seeing a film so confidently miss its mark by an entire decade, seeking no second-pass to make sure the film that seeks to be hip and modern is actually 2023-friendly, or even 2017-friendly.


L-R: Bellafrancesca Lobo (Shohreh Aghdashloo) and Tedward Lobo (Benjamin Schwartz) in RENFIELD, directed by Chris McKay. Photo courtesy of Michele K. Short/Universal Pictures.

And then, it ends up being an unfathomably ugly film, too. Washed out, flat, horrendously lit, everything about the way this film looks is just lazy and wrong. The action, aside from one semi-fun sequence that still ended with terrible humor that brought down the one good moment I could find, is bland and edited frantically. I can try to give it credit for taking the step to making the film extra gory, but so much of the film relies on CGI blood that it has absolutely none of the fun of real blood, but nowhere near enough style to pull off digitized blood à la Ninja Assassin (2009) or Blood: The Last Vampire (2000), it’s just overly glossy, boring nonsense, which is wild considering that the office of Louisiana Economic Development reports the film’s budget to be $86 million. I’m finding myself questioning more-and-more every day as to how films with such inflated budgets can still look so incredibly bad.


L-R: Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) and Rebecca (Awkwafina) in RENFIELD, directed by Chris McKay. Photo courtesy of Michele K. Short/Universal Pictures.

I wouldn’t say the performances in Renfield are particularly bad, as the film is populated with incredibly talented actors who have proven their immense talent in other projects, but rather, everything feels incredibly phoned in. Hoult tries his best to make Renfield a semi-fleshed out character, but unfortunately just reverts back to the bumbling stammering British idiot made so popular by young Hugh Grant, with none of the romantic charm. Awkwafina does her normal comedic schtick, which is equal parts fine, but with the screenplay material, really just seems relatively beneath her at this point (she won a Golden Globe for The Farewell for Christ’s sake). Shohreh Agdashloo tries to have a good time and is perhaps the only innocent party here, but it still doesn’t scratch the surface of her incredible and underrated talent. Cage, the absolute selling point of Renfield, is equal parts charming in how much fun he’s obviously having in the role, but also confusing in how much of his performance feels as if Johnny Depp accidentally reverted to the Jack Sparrow accent in the middle of certain scenes of Dark Shadows (2012). It’s rather inconsistent, and frankly, Cage isn’t in very much of the film, at least not in as much as the marketing would have you believe.


Nicolas Cage as Dracula in RENFIELD, directed by Chris McKay. Photo courtesy of Michele K. Short/Universal Pictures.

There really isn’t much nice that I can say about Renfield other than I can almost guarantee that these actors will all recover from it in other, better roles coming down the pipeline (I saw Shohreh Agdashloo in the newly released teaser for The Penguin today and breathed a sigh of relief). The rest is an embarrassingly lazy, incredibly out-of-touch, unfunny slog that doesn’t fulfill the brief of anything it claims to. It’s not an effective comedy as it hits the lowest common denominator punchlines that are a decade out from their relevance; it’s not an effective action film as everything is mired against bad lighting, bland cinematography, and frenetic editing; and it’s not an effective horror film as…well, it’s not a horror film at all. Even the gore is misguided in its attempts to feel sleek and modern. Cage simply isn’t in the film enough to do anything besides a half-hearted caricature, and I found no one else even remotely compelling enough to root for. The only thing I was rooting for in Renfield was that the 93-minute runtime would pass by quickly. It did not.

In theaters April 14th, 2023.

For more information, head to the official Renfield website.

Final Score: 1 out of 5.


Categories: In Theaters, Reviews

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 reply


  1. Universal Pictures releases a “Dracula Sucks Edition” of Chris McKay’s horror comedy “Renfield,” filled with dark delights to extend the cinematic experience. – Elements of Madness

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: