Directed by Chris McKay, Renfield is a new dark-comedy film that just released this past weekend. The film is an adaptation/continuation of characters from Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula, and stars Nicholas Hoult as the titular Renfield, the henchman to the notorious vampire, Dracula, played by Nicholas Cage. The story chronicles Renfield’s personal journey to separate from his toxic relationship with his evil boss and live a normal life. But this raises the question: will this film get your blood pumping with excitement or does it suck more than a vampire?
The concept of this film is clever and leads to many great joke setups and payoffs. It takes a fictional fantasy character and turns his horrific situation into an uncomfortable cringe comedy. The writing is self-aware and gets a lot of mileage out of the humorous premise, largely in part to the performances of the leads. Hoult delivers a sincere take on Renfield that makes him relatable while being awkward and hilarious with his neurotic personality. Unsurprisingly, Cage steals the show with every scene he is in due to the actor’s ability to transition seamlessly between being hilariously over-the-top and absolutely terrifying. Cage was perfectly cast in the role, as it plays to his strengths of being able to give larger-than-life performances while also knowing how to give depth to a character that could have been very easy to turn into a caricature in less-capable hands. The chemistry between both of these actors is real and palpable. This gives us a dynamic that finds a perfect balance between laugh-out-loud funny and very sad at the same time. It is a shame that they do not get enough screen time together throughout the film’s short runtime.
Despite these glowing aspects, the film is quite messy from beginning to end when it comes to pacing and story. The pacing feels like it is moving things along far too fast to allow for the characters to have time to naturally develop. This often leads the film to break the standard rule of filmmaking “show, don’t tell” many times throughout as it leans on quick exposition to set up character motivations. But worst of all, the film interrupts its great story between Renfield and Dracula to dedicate a large chunk of its runtime to an underdeveloped B-plot about a police officer trying to take down a crime family in New Orleans. The writers try to tie in this storyline with Renfield and Dracula’s story. But the two plots feel too unrelated to seem like they would naturally come together, and end up detracting from the narrative instead of adding to it.
Sadly, the pacing and story issues drag down the film, making it unable to live up to the potential of its great premise. However, there is still a lot of fun here, if nothing else for the performances and clever comedy. After all, if you aren’t sure if you want to go out and spend money to watch this, it might still be worth it for you to do the unthinkable and invite Dracula into your home in a couple of months when Renfield comes out on streaming.