renfield | chris mckay | ryan ridley | robert kirkman | nicholas hoult | nicolas cage | awkwafina | vampire | vampires | dracula | based on | bram stoker | novel | monster | creature | comedy | fantasy | united states | universal | ben schwartz | shohreh aghdashloo
Director: Chris McKay
Writers: Ryan Ridley and Robert Kirkman
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Nicolas Cage and Awkwafina
This is a movie that I was intrigued by while also a bit nervous. I was on the fence to see it. My deciding factor was that this came to the Gateway Film Center so I could see it with my membership. There were also no other 2023 horror releases for that week so I figured I would give it a go.
Synopsis: Renfield (Nicholas Hoult), Dracula’s (Nicolas Cage) henchman and inmate at the lunatic asylum for decades, longs for a life away from the Count, his various demands and all the bloodshed that comes with them.
Now the first thing I need to say here is that this is a direct sequel to Dracula from 1931. They even reshoot and digitally inserted footage of Cage as Dracula and Hoult as Renfield. That immediately caught my attention. We are in the present where Renfield tells of his woes of being the servant to Dracula for all these years. We even see a group attacking Dracula and this duo are the last with the knowledge of this creature as well as how to defeat him. What makes this funny is that Renfield is in a support group for co-dependents in relationships with toxic people.
It should be acknowledged that we are in present day New Orleans. Renfield needs to find victims for Dracula to heal himself from the ordeal we saw. They take residence in an old hospital. Dracula is demanding innocent victims. Renfield is trying to bring bad people, ala Dexter. This upsets the master.
There are other elements at play in the city. There is a crime family operating here. They aren’t the biggest or richest, but they are feared. Bellafrancesca Lobo (Shohreh Aghdashloo) is their leader. Her son is a bit of a screw-up, Tedward (Ben Schwartz). Despite that, he can get away with what he does due to police payoffs. This upsets Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina). Her father was a great officer and she wants to follow in his footsteps. The powers at the station are holding her back though. Her sister also works for the FBI and on a taskforce trying to stop the Lobo family. Her sister is Kate (Camille Chen).
Renfield decides that he wants to break free and get his life back. He is inspired when he sees Rebecca. The two of them fight the Lobos. This shocks Tedward and he tries to find out why Renfield is as strong as he is. I should point out that is due to being Dracula’s familiar. Rebecca justifies it in her own way. Renfield tries to empower himself, but that becomes quite complicated with his boss getting stronger and the Lobos now looking for him as well.
That is where I’m going to leave my recap and introduction to the characters. Where I want to start is back in the beginning of my breakdown. I love that this movie is paying homage to the original Universal classic. It is funny to me to update the footage to include Cage and Hoult. It is perfect though. The former plays the Dracula character a bit more whimsical than Bela Lugosi did. I can justify that though with these centuries being alive, Dracula has been driven mad. He is also narcissistic so he doesn’t think anyone can stop him which fits. Then for his counter, I think Hoult does great at bringing a bit of the madness that Dwight Frye had. It is toned down, but they play it similarly enough for me. Both actors here are great.
With that taken care, the story here is solid enough. It is interesting that we have this villainous cartel in the Lobos operating in New Orleans. Taking out the supernatural elements, this works. We’d see this more in Mexico or nearby states, but I can buy it with how close Louisiana is. The crime elements with Rebecca and her sister want to stop this syndicate are solid. We don’t know how deep the corruption goes. This isn’t new, but incorporating here is well done. Then we bring in Dracula and I like where this goes in the climax. It is over the top, but as a comedy, I can appreciate that in the confines.
Now before I move away from the story, I do want to talk about the psychology of the character of Renfield. This movie almost feels like it started out as a dissertation. We are seeing the parallels of Renfield who the servant or slave is with Dracula as the master. This even gets pointed out in the movie, for comedic effect. I never necessarily correlated it even though it is blatant now that it is pointed out. It is more effective commentary with having Frye/Lugosi as well as Hoult/Cage, since race isn’t brought in. That is unless you want to go human vs. vampire, then familiar vs. vampire. There is also the commentary on exploring toxic relationships that is more prevalent today. We also see more people getting the help they need to overcome. I like what they’re doing here. It is a social commentary but done in a way where it is being poked fun at and can be acknowledged. Using comedy is a good vehicle to explore it.
That’s all I had for the story so I’ll finish out the acting. I liked this supporting cast of Awkwafina, Schwartz, Aghdashloo, Chen and Adrian Martinez. They bring their own comedic elements that work well with our two leads. This can go over the top. I am forgiving since it is supposed to. I don’t think there’s a bad performance due to that. Also shout out to the cameo by Caroline Williams that we get.
All that is left then would be the filmmaking. This went more brutal than I was expecting. There are some gnarly deaths that made me smile. I like the gore that we get. My only issue is they go CGI blood. I’m fine with it to an extent. This is an action movie so it is over the top. I just wanted a bit more practical effects there as the CGI falls short. Other than that, I thought those action scenes were fine. The cinematography is solid. This is shot well. The soundtrack was also fine without necessarily standing out.
In conclusion, this is a fun movie. I like incorporating elements of the original Dracula film and going from there. This explores real issues but does it in a way where it is in your face, but it is doing that for comedic effect. Hoult and Cage are solid. The rest of the cast around them are good. This is a well-made movie. It flies by and we get good gore. My only issue is using too much CGI for blood and spray. Still, this is a fun movie that I think is worth viewing.
My Rating: 7 out of 10