Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula has been terrifying cinema audiences for just over a century across many different forms, from Bela Lugosi’s 1931 pre-Code portrayal to Gary Oldman’s gothic turn in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 adaptation of the novel. The latest to don the collared cloak on the big screen is Nicolas Cage in Renfield, a comedy horror that centres around the vampire’s dutiful familiar come henchman.
Directed by Chris McKay, the plot sees R.M. Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) attend a self-help group to get advice on his co-dependant relationship with his master. Meanwhile, traffic cop Rebecca (Awkwafina) clashes with mob enforcer Tedward Lobo (Ben Schwartz) as she tries to bring down the local crime family. As these stories intertwine, bloodshed ensues.
Despite having one of our most iconic villains at its disposal, the film never really capitalises on its most valuable asset. Cage’s enjoyably over-the-top take on the character is largely side-lined, in favour of the crime revenge narrative in Ryan Ridley and Robert Kirkman’s muddled script. There are comical moments that come from the interplay between a talented cast, and the opening act hints at some interesting ideas around toxic relationships, but the film is too light on laughs to work effectively as a comedy, nor is it scary enough to work as a horror. Instead, the director fills gaps in the already brief running time with gory action sequences that are very messily constructed; the editing feels very hashy, the sound design is poor, and the aesthetics on the whole are pretty ugly on the eye, failing to take advantage of its rich New Orleans setting.
Hoult’s talent is wasted within this film, as he re-enacts a similar schtick from his zombie comedy Warm Bodies that came out a decade ago. He shares a lot of the screentime with Awkwafina who also appears a little miscast in much more understated part than we’re used to seeing her in and as much as the script ships the romance between them, it never clicks into the gear. Schwartz is great at doing his spoilt nepo-gangster bit, all tattoos and mummy issues, but every performance is only sketched in, all parts of different skits that don’t really hang together as they should.
Squandering the opportunity to let Nic Cage go ‘full cage’ in vampire mode, McKay plays him out of position with a supporting role in Renfield, and this ultimately sucks the lifeblood out of a film that never manages to settles on a tone.