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“How this dreadful movie slipped past the normally keen folks at Universal is indeed a stumper to me.”
There’s no way around this, so we might as well get it out of the way. Renfield is a very, very, VERY bad movie.
Sure, it has Nicolas Cage playing Dracula, and that alone should make it good, but nope, it doesn’t help. It’s bad. It’s very, very, VERY bad. Before getting into this, I’m a pretty big fan of Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead comics, and I’m really happy for his success with the show, but Renfield is his first foray into feature films, and boy, does he shit the bed.
If you don’t know the general premise, Nicholas Hoult (of Mad Max: Fury Road and The Favourite fame) playing Dracula’s loyal servant of the title, but in this case, he’s starting to feel that his codependency towards the vampiric count has approached a level of toxicity that he can no longer endure. We learn this as he sits in a group therapy session with others in similar relationships and opines how bad things have gotten. As he talks, we see an impressive recreation of the original 1931 Dracula with Hoult and Cage recreating their respective roles. That gives one a good feeling that maybe the movie can only get better. It doesn’t. It gets worse.
Renfield, who always uses his full name – yes, that’s one of the running jokes – also has superpowers of sorts which he can access by (get this) eating bugs. Yes, that is an idea that someone heard and thought, “So if he ate a spider, he’d be like Spider-Man? Yes! Greenlight it!” Along the way, he also meets Awkwafina’s police officer Rebecca, who is investigating a series of murders of members of the gang of local crime boss Bellafrancesca Lobo, played by Oscar nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo, whose son “Tedward” is played by Ben Schwartz, which brings her together with Renfield.
Already there’s a dilemma, because we know that both Awkwafina and Ben Schwartz can be very funny, but neither of them read this extremely unfunny script and thought, “Hmm… maybe I should say something.” Instead, they just collected their studio check and went along with everything thrown at them. (Ms. Aghdashloo can be forgiven since English is her second language, and Salma Hayak has taken on much worse roles.) Hoult has absolutely zero charisma in this role and even less chemistry with Awkwafina for an attempted romance that is so poorly shoehorned into the story that one wonders if the filmmakers ever heard of something called a “chemistry read.”
And then there’s Cage who pops in and out of the movie, doing his most over-the-top Cage that’s become so popular with the kids these days, but it quickly grows tiring, because like everything else in the movie, it just isn’t funny. We see Cage’s Dracula in various stages of falling apart after being exposed to sunlight, which could have been cool if the makeup effects were reasonably well done, but they’re not. It’s like Cage really wanted to play Dracula (and who could blame him?) but didn’t want to sit in the makeup chair for more than 30 minutes. People say they love this version of Cage, but he’s done this sort of thing better in other recent equally bad movies.
For the horror fans (like me) likely to want to see this due to its connections to one of the greatest historic vampires of all time (as played by any other actor than Cage apparently), there’s plenty of gore and literally buckets of blood splashing, pouring, flying everywhere – okay, I’ll say that aspect of the movie might have been fun in 3D – but if it’s meant to be anything remotely approaching campy fun, it fails quite miserably. The movie takes advantage of its R-rating but then quickly squanders it.
Renfield is directed by Chris McKay, who has made far better movies in my opinion, including the Chris Pratt sci-fi action movie, The Tomorrow War, one of the films that was hobbled from a theatrical release due to COVID. I’m sure he must have thought the concept or script was funny to take this on, but this is the guy who directed so much of Robot Chicken, what I consider one of the funnier shows in recent decades. How could he let this one slip past him? (It’s even more disappointing when you realize that McKay came up with the story for the far superior Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves out this week, and for whatever reason, he decided to direct Renfield instead.)
Renfield is so abysmal it makes every single other attempt by Universal to do something with its Universal monster IP – that includes Van Helsing, that includes Tom Cruise’s The Mummy, that includes Dracula Untold – look so much much better by comparison.
How this dreadful movie slipped past the normally keen folks at Universal, who can generally discern if they’re making a movie that’s good, bad, or – as is this case – HORRIBLE – is indeed a stumper to me.
Let me make this quite clear – Renfield is garbage. Any critic who tells you otherwise – if they say it’s fun, or heaven forbid, they recommend you go see it – they were likely plied with free alcohol before they watched it. I can’t imagine anyone liking this otherwise.
Renfield opens on April 14, if you still choose to see it.