For fans of 1988's cult classic Vampire's Kiss, seeing Nicolas Cage finally be a real vampire is a thrill. He is by far the best part of Renfield, which features a wild mixture of action, gore, and humor. So where's the horror in there? Well, it comes when Cage is on screen chewing the scenery. He brings a cocktail of unhinged Cagetitude and general menace as the count.
The story here is by Robert Kirkman and you can feel that this was probably an idea for a graphic novel before it was conceived as a film, written by Ryan Ridley and directed by Chris McKay. The film is pulpy and thin and built around a high concept, much like a comic book. McKay brings a campy, silly tone to the film while staging some well-choreographed if confusing action set pieces. What this all amounts to is a film that works most of the time but not all the time.
Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) has realized he is in a toxic relationship with his boss, Count Dracula. He has served as the vampire's familiar for decades and has decided he wants more than finding dinner for the boss and occasionally using the superhuman abilities he got from Dracula, nevermind he has to eat bugs to get them. Renfield wants to go out on his own but is quickly caught up with gangster Tedward (Ben Schwartz), son of crime boss Bellafrancesca (Shoreh Aghdashloo). They are after Renfield after he kills a bunch of their men trying to round up some victims that he doesn't mind seeing leave this earth. Fighting the crime family is New Orleans cop Rebecca (Awkwafina), the only non-corrupt cop in the city.
As Renfield visits a local support group for codependents, he begins to gain confidence in himself. He has been a servant for so long that he has forgotten that he could be anything else. During an attack by some vampire hunters, Dracula is wounded and Renfield begins to move away. From here, the story goes in many directions but rarely has narrative momentum. Luckily the humor works thanks to a very game cast. Hoult and Awkwafina play off each other well. Cage lights up the screen every time he is on it. Schwartz gets to evolve his Jean-Ralphio character from Parks & Recreation into something unique. The silly tone of the film mixed with such a likable cast carries the film through some of its more rocky moments. The action scenes are insanely gory, adding to the camp feel of the movie.
Renfield is a clever idea with a good cast and a so-so script. Character dynamics are left ill-defined too often. However, I suspect most people are coming to see Cage as Dracula and he doesn't disappoint. It is a terrific performance and one that will be remembered in Cage's long list of performances.