REVIEW: “Renfield” (2023)

Riding on the wacky idea of Nicolas Cage playing the iconic Count Dracula, the blood-drenched vampire movie “Renfield” looked to have the markings of a potential sleeper hit. But after a grim opening weekend at the box office, it looks as if Universal Pictures has a major bomb on their hands. It’s hard to put much blame on the studio. They’ve had a nice run of successful surprises and they’ve certainly promoted this film. But I think it’s safe to say that something about “Renfield” hasn’t clicked with audiences.

What went wrong is anyone’s guess. Maybe there actually aren’t many folks out there smitten with the idea of Count Cage. Perhaps it was hard for some people to get a good read on this action-horror-comedy mashup. Whatever the reason, people haven’t turned out and its first-week numbers are dreadful. And it’s only amplified by the film’s hefty $65 million budget (before advertising).

I hate to kick a movie when it’s down. I really wish I could be a positive force and say it’s worth a trip to theater. Sadly “Renfield” is a unexpectedly limp and frustratingly hollow experience that squanders most of the potential it had. It starts with promise, setting up its goofy premise in a fun and imaginative way. But once it establishes itself it really has nothing else to offer. Instead it sputters along, milking its one good joke dry and leaving us to ponder what could have been. Even the unflappable Nic Cage can’t ham it up enough to save the movie from its many self-inflicted wounds.

It’s sad to say, but once you get past that initial setup it’s hard to find much to latch onto. There’s probably enough good material for a few SNL sketches, but the bulk of the rest is pretty tough to endure. The film is plagued with issues such as uninteresting side stories, revelations that come with poor buildups and (in some cases) no resolutions, humor that often lands with a deafening thud, and gory action that resembles what you would see in a cheap splatter film rather than a $65 million studio project.

For a while Cage is the film’s saving grace. His manic charm and giddy theatrics imbues his version on Dracula with the kind of preposterous spin we’re looking for. He completely goes for it which is a key reason he is so enjoyable. The bummer of it all is that he isn’t in the movie nearly as much as you might expect. And the movie certainly struggles whenever he’s away from the screen.

“Reinfield” comes from director Chris McKay (“The Lego Batman Movie”, “The Tomorrow War”). It’s written by Ryan Ridley who’s working from a story pitched by Robert “The Walking Dead” Kirkman. The script follows Robert Montague Renfield (Nicholas Hoult), the indebted and long-suffering servant of the Prince of Darkness himself. Renfield is tasked with supplying his master with human blood, the more innocent the tastier. But Dracula’s penchant for blood-sucking benders means the pair are constantly having to move from city to city. Their latest stop – New Orleans.

Dracula has blessed (or cursed) Renfield with immortality as a reward for his faithful service. Renfield also has been granted superpowers that are activated whenever he eats a bug (???). Yet despite the ‘benefits’, Dracula’s demanding personality and unbridled narcissism puts a strain on their relationship. So much so that Renfield wants out. He wants a normal life. He has joined a support group to help people with codependency, but so far it hasn’t helped him muster the courage leave his oppressive master.

The best material is found in the main storyline where Renfield tries to find the strength to stand up to Dracula. Unfortunately we have to endure all of the side stuff which really weighs the movie down. Awkwafina is woefully unconvincing playing a dutiful New Orleans cop named Rebecca Quincy. She has an axe to grind with a local crime family ran by matriarch Bellafrancesca Lobo (Shohreh Aghdashloo) and her obnoxious son Teddy (Ben Schwartz playing one of the most insufferable characters I’ve seen on screen all year). There’s nothing remotely fun or interesting about these characters, and their ill-conceived stories offer little more than dead weight.

I will say Hoult gives a good performance. His ingratiating timidity is both endearing and humorous, and the film is at its best when he and Cage are sharing the screen. But the movie’s misfires are aplenty – the half-baked storytelling; the flat and uninspired humor; the wildly inconsistent action sequences; the even more inconsistent visual effects. They take what should have been a goofy, over-the-top good time and turns it into a 90-minute slog. “Renfield” is in theaters now.


12 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Renfield” (2023)

  1. I think it is a little better than you give it credit for, but not by much. The failure is probably a result of competition. Super Mario Brothers sucking up audiences (Parents needing to be with kids) and Horror (The Pope’s Exorcist) taking potential audience. Still it was never going to be a huge film, it really feels like it is for horror geeks and Cage Freaks. (like me).

    • For me it was a real stretch even finding the horror. It has several nods to Dracula and vampire lore, but that about it. And I felt everything outside of Cage was REALLY bad. It’s gonna sting Universal. The definitely overspent.

  2. This is a real shame. I was tempted to see this because, well yeah, a bat-shit Nic Cage again but then . . . Ben Schwartz. I’m sorry but I couldn’t stand the guy on that short-lived Netflix show Space Force and it sounds like it’s exactly what he’s like here. He may be some people’s idea of a good time but it always seems like he’s trying way too hard.

    • Yep, it’s a shame. I felt my expectations were in the right place. After all, we are talking about Nic Cage as Dracula. But everything around him is pretty bad. And Schwartz…sheesh.

  3. That’s a shame. Nic Cage as Dracula is $$$ but damn…. doesn’t work in execution. I’m wary about that Ben Schwartz guy. I’ll wait for it on a streaming service soon.

  4. Great review. I wasn’t completely sold on this movie (and your review further solidified the idea). I’ll probably skip it in theaters and probably watch it / review it later on as a digital rental.

  5. Any movie with Cage I run away from, he is the greatest ham in the history of acting, and the worst actor of our time. Bomb after bomb it doesn’t matter, Hollywood keeps giving Coppola roles. He has a cult following for sure, but there are far more who detest him, as his box office numbers show. Peace ✌🏼

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