Review: ‘Renfield’ (You Are Enough)

For the blood is the life… but your toxic boss is undead.

Forging a better life for himself, Robert Montague Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) travels to Transylvania to close a real estate deal for a London firm, but he instead falls victim to Count Dracula (Nicolas Cage) and becomes his familiar. Roughly a century later, Renfield has grown weary of repeatedly moving to new towns, juicing up his boss, and being left to clean up the mess after inevitable confrontations with would-be vampire hunters. Secretly attending codependency meetings and empathizing with the group led by Mark (Brandon Scott Jones), it isn’t until seeing New Orleans cop Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina) stand up to local drug lord Tedward Lobo (Ben Schwartz) that Renfield sees a path forward into a life free of eternal servitude…

Directed by Chris McKay from a script co-written by Ryan Ridley and producer Robert Kirkman, Renfield imagines the mind of a supernatural servant giving his entire existence to a toxic boss; whenever Dracula isn’t feasting on the blood of his victims, he’s feeding upon Renfield’s metaphorical soul. The trailer scene featuring our titular hero identifying with the support group is telling, and the inevitability of a murderous narcissist discovering his “giver” is considering another alternative unfolds exactly as expected. Billed as a horror-comedy applying pop psychology to one of literature’s most famous power couples without pulling any punches or f-bombs, how far will the director of The Lego Batman Movie and the producer of “The Walking Dead” go for a tale of unrequited service and redemption?

The heartbeat of the film is the Nicholases: Hoult and Cage. Hoult pines and suffers as Renfield until finally emerging from his cocoon, bringing with it all the physicality the actor is known for. Cage embodies Bela Lugosi’s 1931 Dracula entirely before adding in his usual weirdness, reportedly even channeling a bit of Anne Bancroft from The Graduate whenever not chewing the scenery. With too little mystery to be frightening and too much carnage to be hilarious, the final cut settles for an atmospheric tongue-in-cheek adventure invoking Marriage Story banter with barrels of fake blood and frequent dismemberment. Even when mortal wounds can be supernaturally shrugged off, words can still cut the deepest.

With the few exceptions including Cafe du Monde overlooking Jackson Square and a some exterior shots, viewers would barely know the film was shot in New Orleans. At one point, the entire city is “activated” to chase down a suspect, but the sequences that follow are too small to justify those claims. Fortunately, Awkwafina is on-point as usual in taking-no-crap from anyone. Schwartz plays Tedward as a paralleling codependent versus his mafia mom Bellafrancesca played by Shohreh Aghdashloo. It’s an interesting plot point the drug cartel is run by the Lobo family, which could be a secret set-up for a sequel or just a clever turn of phrase. Jones playing well-meaning group leader Mark brings some of his haunted vibe over from his CBS show “Ghosts” playing colonial Issac Higgintoot.

Nothing like What We Do In the Shadows or its spinoff mockumentary television show, Renfield is a spiritual R-rated sequel to the original Universal Dracula that doesn’t take itself too seriously while focusing upon a little-explored relationship. With reboot attempts like Dracula Untold and animated films like Hotel Transylvania recasting the infamous Count as a misunderstood hero, it’s exhilarating to see Cage usher in a return to Dracula being an actual villain and the monster everyone knows he can be… and especially when he gets inside your head.

Renfield is rated R for bloody violence, some gore, language throughout, and some drug use but not the way you think.

Three skull recommendation out of four

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