Renfield is a playful concept given a bloody-good execution as a strong dose of horror comedy.
Renfield (2023) Review By Mark McPherson
Published on April 12, 2023
Rating 3.5 /5
Renfield is one of those horror-comedy ideas that write themselves. What if Dracula’s manipulated slave started growing weary of his sinful lifestyle? What if he began to notice the signs of this abusive relationship? And how would he escape from that toxic power dynamic? Thankfully, the film offers more than just a good idea and has some solid execution to go along with it. Also, a ton of giddy gore!
Nicholas Hoult slips perfectly into the role of Renfield, matching the classic cinema interpretation's similar look and little mannerisms. But when he made audiences care about a zombie in Warm Bodies, Hoult makes you feel for this right-hand man for Dracula. Dracula himself is played up by Nicolas Cage, who camps up the character but also embodies the monster’s penchant for manipulation and style. The film even addresses how close this casting is by portraying their meeting in the same manner as the original Dracula movie, showcasing similar shots and verbatim lines.
Renfield’s quest for salvation is a dangerous and meaningful one. Even during the aspects of it that play up the absurdity of the character attending group therapy for those in abusive relationships, there’s an air of earnestness in these moments. The film is not just pointing out absurdities but taking the character in a unique direction. This leads to such telling and silly moments as the eccentric group leader Mark (Brandon Scott Jones) almost intentionally misreading Renfield’s plights. He views Renfield’s honest delivery of his boss having too much power being more metaphorical than literal.
Of course, there’s more to the picture than just Renfield finding his inner strength. Dracula finds himself interested in the local mafia of his current city, intrigued to take control with a powerful group of criminals who openly identify as evil. This mafia is led by the deep-voiced Shohreh Aghdashloo and an over-the-top enforcer played by Ben Schwartz. Dracula makes a good choice considering the mob is in cahoots with the police force, making the job of taking them down much tougher for Officer Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina). With nowhere else to turn, she finds an alliance with Renfield, who makes a perfect crime-fighter with his bug-consuming superpowers that allow him to leap through the air and brutally savage his opponents.
For those wondering how much this film leans into its horror, it’s the type of funhouse that comes with goofy gallons of blood. The funniest aspect of the film is undoubtedly how Renfield massacres his enemies in the most absurd ways possible. This includes such notable scenes as slicing off limbs with a serving plate, impaling one assassin with another assassin's severed arm, and having Hoult try to act like a charming psychopath and Awkwafina as the awe-struck underdog makes for a wicked comedic combo. It’s a hilarious visual feast on top of a powerful narrative of overcoming toxic relationships and finding inner courage.
Renfield is a playful concept given a bloody-good execution as a strong dose of horror comedy. There’s a surprising amount of heart in this picture in which Cage munches scenery as much as throats, Hoult consumes bugs, and Awkwafina curses up a storm in her rage-fueled assault on a corrupt city. It proceeds almost too quickly through its 90 minutes, enough to make one long for more time with its characters. As a light yet vicious film, it gets the job done well enough to leave any horror and/or comedy lover satiated.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.