‘Renfield’ Review: Fun and Funny, Though Light on Story and Horror
Renfield is a horror-action-comedy that mashes up many different genre influences, but is the final film less than the sum of its parts?
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In the 2010s, Universal Pictures attempted to revive their classic monsters in a shared universe called Dark Universe. The failure of The Mummy (2017) immediately squashed Universal’s shared-universe plans, and since then fans have been left to wait and wonder what new directions their favorite monsters will take. The Invisible Man (2020) is a tense and wholly original take on the classic character, but Universal’s latest monster update, Renfield, takes a much different approach. Renfield uses connections to the 1931 Dracula along with some very of-the-moment storytelling to create a movie that probably won’t become an all-time vampire classic, but it will be fun for the right audience.
Renfield focuses on its title character, Robert Montague Renfield (Nicholas Hoult). If you’re not familiar with the character, Renfield is Dracula’s servant (or more precisely, Dracula’s “familiar”) as seen in many different versions of the Dracula story. This version of Renfield is directly tied to the same character seen in Universal’s Dracula (1931) as played by Dwight Frye. However, lots of time has passed since 1931, and Hoult’s portrayal of Renfield is much different than Frye’s. The same can be said about Nicolas Cage’s Dracula, but we’ll get to him later.
As Renfield, Nicholas Hoult is very good. This version of Renfield is a very tired person. He’s tired of taking care of a master who doesn’t appreciate him. He’s tired of the constant mental and physical abuse suffered at the hands of Dracula. And he’s tired of being a bad person. Hoult plays these emotions well in a movie that isn’t meant to be very deep. Though, sure, Renfield touches on ideas about co-dependency, it is a comedy first and foremost. Any deeper messages you may pull from the film are great, but it’s really all about the laughs.
As with any comedy, Renfield won’t be for everyone. Comedy is about as subjective as horror in that regard. What makes one person laugh will be met with silence by many others. Thankfully, Renfield is loaded with superb comedic performers. Awkwafina plays a police officer who becomes friends with Renfield thanks to a mutual enemy, an enemy played by the equally funny Ben Schwartz. Hoult, Awkwafina, and Schwartz make a fine comedy trio, and even if some of the jokes don’t land for you, there’s enough silliness throughout the film to get a few smiles from most viewers.
However, the most mesmerizing performance comes from Nicolas Cage. He plays Count Dracula with the kind of deranged energy that you would expect from Nicolas Cage. So even though the movie isn’t really about Dracula, the legendary vampire dominates every scene he’s in. As he should. His presence helps maintain interest in a story that works fine for what the movie wants to be, but a story that is also very basic and, at times, somewhat generic.
The foundation of Renfield is built on top of a rather basic crime thriller plot. Awkwafina is a police officer, Rebecca Quincy, who has a vendetta against the Lobo crime family for reasons seen in countless other cop dramas. It’s Officer Quincy’s story that pushes Renfield to take action in his own life. The stories of Renfield and Dracula, and of Quincy and the Lobo family come together in a perfunctory way, but it’s fine. The plot in Renfield is really just a delivery system meant to provide viewers with a steady stream of jokes and action, and for that it works well enough.
The best way to categorize Renfield is as a horror-action-comedy. It is a comedy first, but it does have a surprising amount of action. The horror in the movie mostly just comes from the amount of blood flying around in the action scenes, and because Dracula is in the movie. In fact, if Universal’s Dark Universe still existed, Renfield would fit in naturally with the kind of storytelling the The Mummy (2017) attempted to achieve. Which is to say, these movies feel less like horror or monster movies, and more like variations of modern action movies. The Mummy went for more adventurous style of action, while Renfield is a comedic style of action.
The character Renfield has a small portion of Dracula’s powers, and if you’re looking through the lens of a modern, superhero-dominated film industry, you could even say Renfield is kind of like a superhero origin story. Renfield has super-strength and a healing ability, and early in the movie he uses his powers to fight against a bunch of criminals led by Teddy Lobo (Schwartz). The difference between Renfield and most superhero films is that the fights in Renfield contain dismembered bodies and buckets of blood, but otherwise the basic ideas aren’t so dissimilar. The good news is, the action sequences are a ton of fun, so even if it feels odd when you first see Renfield flipping through the air while kicking and punching people, once you settle in to the tone, it’s very entertaining.
As for the actual horror contained in Renfield, there are some great horror-inspired visuals throughout the movie. Dracula looks amazing as he gradually regains his powers while starting the film as a disfigured mess. Dracula’s lair is also quite elaborate and interesting from a horror perspective. The movie isn’t scary, but it’s not meant to be. For a movie based on Dracula there could certainly be more of an emphasis on a horror aesthetic, but what is there is done well.
Renfield Review Summary & Recommendation
For a horror-action-comedy, Renfield is pretty good. Part crime thriller, part journey of self-discovery, Renfield is a fun time for fans who don’t mind a radically different take on two classic Universal characters. It’s also recommended for those who just want a simple story meant to provide a few good laughs. Though the story is nothing special and many of its elements feel recycled from other films, the cast is great, and the action sequences are a blast, and the comedy works well most of the time.
If nothing else piques your interest though, watch Renfield for Nicolas Cage. He’s brilliant.
The Cast of Renfield
Nicholas Hoult as Robert Montague Renfield
Nicholas Hoult doesn’t have an extensive history in appearing in horror movies, but his appearances have been memorable. He played the obnoxious foodie Tyler in The Menu (2022), and he costarred in the horror-themed romantic-zombie-comedy Warm Bodies (2013) as a zombie in love.
In Renfield, Nicholas Hoult plays the title character. Hoult’s version of Renfield is entirely sympathetic. He is a man who has spent decades being controlled by the abusive power wielded by Dracula, and he is tired of his life. Renfield tries to please his master, but he also tries to be a good person. Those two goals are impossible to reconcile, so Renfield is looking for any kind of light in the darkness as the movie begins.
Nicolas Cage as Count Dracula
Nicolas Cage needs no introduction. He has been one of cinema’s most eclectic and engaging actors for decades. Cage has starred in multiple horror movies in the past, and his most famous previous experience in a vampire-themed movie is the pitch-black dark comedy Vampire’s Kiss (1988).
In Renfield, Nicolas Cage plays Count Dracula in a way that is uniquely his own. This version of Dracula is deranged, with an inflated sense of his own already sizable power. Cage’s Dracula is vindictive and cruel, but his personality is so huge that you can’t help but want to see him more and more as the movie goes on. Dracula has big plans in Renfield, but he always makes time to be as horrible as possible to Renfield.
Awkwafina as Rebecca Quincy
Awkwafina is best known for her comedic roles, but she also has some superb roles in dramas including the 2019 film The Farewell. Renfield is her first major role in a horror movie, but with its large amount comedy and action, her role in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) comes fairly close to her role in Renfield.
Awkwafina plays Rebecca Quincy, a New Orleans police officer whose aggressive style of police work and anger management issues have caused her to be relegated to traffic duty. Rebecca’s goal is to take down the Lobo crime family, and she meets Renfield through their mutual enemy, Teddy Lobo.
Ben Schwartz as Tedward “Teddy” Lobo
Ben Schwartz, like Awkwafina, is primarily known for his roles in comedies. He also does a lot of voice acting, including starring as the voice of Sonic in Sonic the Hedgehog (2020) and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022).
Teddy Lobo is a prominent member of the Lobo crime family, and he is the secondary antagonist in Renfield. As the son of the head of the Lobo family, Teddy can get away with pretty much anything. That means he is reckless and commits crimes with impunity. He also isn’t very smart in his actions, and his boastful nature belies his many insecurities.
- Shohreh Aghdashloo as Bellafrancesca Lobo – The head of the Lobo crime family, and Teddy Lobo’s mother.
- Brandon Scott Jones as Mark – The leader of the group therapy sessions that Renfield attends.
- Adrian Martinez as Chris – A traffic cop who works closely with Rebecca Quincy.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Renfield based on?
Is Renfield connected to Dracula (1931)?
Where did the idea for Renfield come from?
Do I need to see Dracula (1931) before watching Renfield?
What is Renfield about?
Is there a post-credits scene in Renfield?
Is Renfield a vampire?
What power does Renfield have?
What weaknesses does Renfield have?
Unlike Dracula, Renfield is not sensitive to sunlight, and he does have a reflection in mirrors.
Is the character Renfield good or bad?
Is Renfield rated R?
Who made Renfield?
Chris McKay previously directed The Lego Batman Movie (2017) and The Tomorrow War (2021), and he directed many episodes of Robot Chicken (2007-2012). Ryan Ridley previously worked as a writer on TV shows including Rick and Morty (2013-2017), Community (2014-2015), and Invincible (2021).