Renfield, Dracula’s henchman and inmate at the lunatic asylum for decades, longs for a life away from the Count, his various demands, and all of the bloodshed that comes with them.

Chuck says:

Much like Warner Brothers’ continued foot-shooting approach regarding the films that feature their stable of DC Comics’ superheroes, Universal Studios also doesn’t quite know what to do with their roster of famous monsters. Misguided remakes (2010’s “The Wolfman”), misleading reboots (2020’s “The Invisible Man”) and two criminally overlooked re-imaginings (2014 “Dracula Untold” and 2017’s “The Mummy”) have left the studio spinning its wheels, unsure how to introduce its legacy characters to a new generation.   An eclectic batch of upcoming films, from star-driven productions (Scarlett Johansson as “The Bride of Frankenstein,” Ryan Gosling as “The Wolfman”) to monster crossovers (“Dark Army”) to a kid-friendly animated feature (“Little Monsters”), indicate the studio is desperate and willing to try anything to generate interest in their iconic properties.

Their latest attempt, Chris McKay’s “Renfield,” isn’t likely to provide the answers they are looking for. A miscalculation with flashes of inspiration, this too-long-even-at-93-minutes debacle leans into the director’s trademark sense of irreverence with tepid results. Stultifying and repetitious, the film’s saving grace is Nicolas Cage’s arch take on Count Dracula, an ironic, humorous portrayal that finds the perfect balance of comedy and horror, an approach McKay would have been wise to replicate, rather than drenching the movie in excessive gore and gratuitous violence, none of it achieving the over-the-top humor the filmmaker was aiming for.

The film gets off to a good start, as a rather clever premise is employed that, unfortunately, is soon lost amid the bloodshed. Renfield (a very good Nicholas Hoult) has come to a self-help support group for those trapped in abusive co-dependent relationships. By listening to others, he recognizes some similarities between what they are going through and what he has to contend with regarding his master Count Dracula (Nicolas Cage). But Renfield isn’t there to get help, rather he’s intent on tracking down the abusers being spoken off and harvest them for his vampire lord.

However, things go south very quickly as the bug-eating familiar crosses paths with the Lobo crime family, who target him for assassination when he steps in to save Rebecca (Akwafina), a police officer trying to bring in the scion of the criminal clan, Teddy (Ben Schwartz), to justice. Renfield falls in love with the cop, prompting him to severe ties with Dracula and live his own life. Chaos and stupidity ensue.

What proves most frustrating are the flashes of brilliance that appear briefly but are then discarded before their potential is realized. Flashbacks that are done in black and white which replicate the 1931 “Dracula” with Cage and Hoult inserted are wonderfully executed, seamlessly integrated and serve as a proper homage to the original. Also, the members of the self-help group Renfield frequents all have potentially intriguing stories that, had they been explored, would have provided some weight to the story. As for Hoult, he’s fantastic in the title role, cowering in the face of pure evil, struggling mightily to find his footing, all done with a light touch that makes it all properly humorous and sympathetic.

As for Cage, he gives a great performance that’s worthy of a much better movie.  Playing the King of the Vampires as a petulant teenager proves to be a masterstroke.  Mercurial in his emotions, the Count shifts emotional gears on a dime, one minute employing dripping sarcasm, the next devolving into violent fits that serve to vent his childish tantrums. The violence he creates while doing so is monstrous, which is the key to the role.  He’s a child but a lethal one, a being of great power and no conscience, a true monster.

Unfortunately, McKay is intent on showing us his shortcomings where filming and choreographing action scenes are concerned. Occurring every 20 minutes or so, we’re bludgeoned with a flurry of images cut together for maximum confusion, his intention obviously being to cause seizures rather than excitement.  I’m so tired of these nonsensical sequences, technical razzle dazzle that means nothing as the action we’re supposed to be awed by is rendered incomprehensible.  As for the over-the-top violence, if you’ve been wanting to see a character’s arms ripped off and then used to beat others to death, your wait is over.

There’s a good movie in the script somewhere.  Examining the co-dependent relationship between Renfield and Dracula is a part of the mythos that’s been neglected and is ripe for further examination, one that could prove cathartic and meaningful for some viewers. Unfortunately, McKay’s “Renfield” is an adolescent movie, one focused on blood not heart.

2 Stars

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