What a spectacular missed opportunity Chris McKay’s Renfield is. The screenplay by Ryan Ridley, based on a story from The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman (that’s a big name to have attached to this project), is hampered by focusing on characters not named Dracula and Renfield. Despite some cleverness in the screenplay, this is Renfield’s downfall: that and an overreliance on gore and action. Here you have a game with Nicolas Cage playing Dracula (the film’s greatest crime is wasting this) and a game with Nicholas Hoult as Renfield with a half-decent premise (though kind of sitcom), and it’s left to waste on lazy writing.
This is yet another twist on the Dracula story. One that relies on flashbacks and voice-over narration. Thankfully we don’t get a Dracula origin story. The film’s story follows R.M. Renfield, a loyal servant to Count Dracula, as he grapples with his undying loyalty to his master and growing desire for a more meaningful existence. It is at its best when it focuses on playing with the tropes of the Dracula story. It opens nicely with Renfield in a modern-day A.A. meeting for people trapped in toxic relationships. Through his sharing in the group, we get a quick backstory featuring Hoult and Cage inserted into Dracula 1931 clips. Anyway, Renfield decides he doesn’t want to be Dracula’s bitch anymore, so he decides he wants to make a two-bit gangster Teddy Lobo, Dracula’s new bitch. Meanwhile, Renfield falls in love with Rebecca, a cop who stands up to Teddy.
The focus on Awkwafina’s Rebecca and Ben Schwartz’s Teddy Lobo feels needlessly tacked on, as does the plot involving the mob. It’s nothing against Awkwafina per se, I appreciated that the love story didn’t feature two stereotypical-looking characters, but her character is also annoying and poorly written. She’s an abrasive go-getter tired of being relegated to traffic duty. She has a sister who happens to be the local FBI agent (the film is set in New Orleans), and her Dad is a famous cop she wants to emulate. She’s the one good cop in a corrupt police department, as we later see. As far as Ben Schwartz is concerned, a little of him goes a long way. He plays Tedward, the son of New Orleans mob boss Bellafrancesca, played by Shohreh Aghdashloo. He killed Rebecca’s Dad, and that’s the main crux there. This was by far the least interesting part of the film.
So Renfield is two movies; I wanted it to be the movie that focused more on the two characters Dracula and Renfield without having to throw these desperate subplots in the mix. Not to mention making it an action extravaganza. That was unnecessary. It’s only 93 minutes long, so you would think that writers Kirkman and Ridley would want to make every scene count. It’s not without its charms, but the crowd I saw it with, which was pretty packed in the theater, did not laugh. The action scenes are sometimes amusing, but whenever the film veers into serious territory, all the fun is left out. A real opportunity at a cult classic was lost here. Nicolas Cage, as always, brings his unique intensity to the role of Count Dracula, making for an exceptional portrayal of the legendary vampire. Unfortunately, he’s never on the screen for very long.
Renfield is a disappointing and unfocused attempt at reimagining the classic Dracula tale. Hindered by an inconsistent tone and a meandering plot, the film wastes the potential of its talented cast and intriguing premise. Despite its ambition, Renfield ultimately falls short and will likely leave both vampire genre enthusiasts and casual moviegoers unsatisfied. I was looking forward to this movie, so it’s a shame. I was high and ready to go, and it just didn’t hit. Nobody is more disappointed than me, a Nic Cage stan.