If we could count on anyone to do right by Dracula, it’s Universal. Oh right, they are the ones responsible for Dracula Reborn. Well, we can put that nonsense behind us with Renfield, a direct sequel — surprise! — to the original 1931 Bela Lugosi classic. Don’t worry, it makes more sense once you’ve seen the movie.
With the director of the best Lego movie — The Lego Batman Movie — Chris McKay steering the ship, he turns the actors loose with a stellar Nicolas Cage as Dracula, and a terrifically cast Renfield in Nicholas Hoult. Together, along with a pitch perfect supporting cast, McKay, and the two Nics, provide way more food for thought than your average run-of-the-mill vampire movie.
Renfield has been Dracula’s familiar going on a good 90 years and Renfield is finally accepting that it’s starting to take its toll on his mental health. Seeking help at a support group for co-dependent relationships, he wishes to find a way to tell Dracula to suck it and start living his own life. But everything hits a snag after Renfield saves a club full of innocent victims from the Los Lobos clan of drug dealers.
Los Lobos leader Teddy (Ben Schwartz) sets out to find the mystery savior, setting him on a path with the vengeful police officer Rebecca (Awkwafina) who knows it was the Lobos who killed her cop father. Rebecca joins forces with Renfield to take down the Lobos after Dracula announces his plan to Renfield that he’s tired of living in the shadows and seeks out world domination, leaving Renfield and Rebecca to realize they’re in for — literally — the fight of their lives.
If you’ve seen the red band trailer for Renfield you know what you’re getting into. Cage is stupendous as Dracula, Hoult is the leading man we’ve been waiting for him to be, Awkwafina and Schwartz keep the one-liners flowing, the jokes fly fast and furious, and gore gets splashed like there’s no tomorrow. What you don’t know is that screenwriter Ryan Ridley — with story credit by Robert Kirkman — wants to make sure you feel for the characters and gives them real stakes and arcs.
Come for the laughs, stay for the brains. You’d also never expect a gory vampire comedy to have as much heart as it does. At least tonally. Usually hearts are reserved for onscreen practical effects. Something of which there are a surprising amount of for a change. Mental health gets a deep dive which is not something we’ve come to expect from mainstream studio genre fare.
There is one possible missed opportunity involving the Lobos family — their gang wears wolf masks and plenty of other wolf references abound. I’ll let you piece together what could have been, but maybe they’re hoping to save it for a sequel. Renfield is the most fun you can have at the movies this weekend, so long as you can stomach the gore. But this should come as no surprise considering we have Cage to… count on. He really sinks his teeth into it and his ability to be a bit batty at times comes in handier than ever.