Renfield [Film Review]

(from left) Dracula (Nicolas Cage) and Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) in Renfield, directed by Chris McKay.

Released: May 25, 2023

Director: Chris McKay
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Nicholas Cage, Awkwafina, Ben Schwartz, Shohreh Aghdashloo

Growing up, my favourite monster movies were always about vampires. The Lost Boys, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Blade, True Blood, Queen of the Damned… all featured vampires you would happily throw yourself at to be their dinner. Then comes along Renfield with an ageing Nicholas Cage as Dracula. Ok, interesting choice. I thought Tom Cruise was as low as you could get for vampires with sex appeal. Thankfully the movie is less about Dracula and all about Renfield [played by Nicholas Hoult] attending AA meetings for people with toxic bosses. We’ve all got a story right? I had a boss who quite literally told me off for coughing. I’m asthmatic so if there’s one thing I can’t control it’s the amount of oxygen in my lungs at any given moment.

Renfield is the very definition of a toxic relationship – Dracula makes him do everything from cleaning to getting him food; he also alienates Renfield from friends and family, apparently limits his wardrobe because he’s been wearing the same suit for the last century and is a master manipulator by telling Renfield he’s his only friend, and nobody cares about him like he does etc so, of course, Renfield does dumb shit like ruining spells that could get rid of Dracula once and for all and set him free. So while Renfield is getting some much-needed therapy and self-confidence from these meetings, he’s also finding potential victims to feed his master. He sees it as helping his fellow co-dependents. He takes care of their monsters by feeding his monster. It’s his latest victim of choice that sets the scene for the rest of the movie: while Renfield sets out to bring back some dinner for Drac, he ends up caught in the middle of a drug war.

The three clowns he’s come for, all stole drugs from Teddy Lobo… they think Renfield is the hitman sent for them and don’t even put up a fight while they start giving the drugs back when the actual hitman comes in. Teddy Lobo [played by Ben Schwartz] is no criminal mastermind either. After a situation that saw him announcing who he was to police, then running down the street with his arms loaded with cocaine, he’s later at the police station confessing everything to literally nobody. He didn’t even need the pressure of the police to bend. Despite all this, he gets to walk free. Renfield’s next attempt to get his master food sees another altercation with Teddy Lobo and his henchmen, which puts him, and Dracula on the Lobo family’s radar.

Renfield is a clever way to look at abusive relationships whether it’s with your boss, a friend or your spouse, and how hard it can be to get away from that kind of relationship. People love to judge victims of these relationships with “why don’t they just leave”, as if it’s ever that simple. Renfield eventually does leave and gets himself an apartment and a new wardrobe, but Dracula won’t leave him alone. He continues to control and ruin his attempts at a life. Dracula could easily find a new person to turn into his familiar but instead, it’s more fun for him to torture Renfield. Narcissists only function at full power if they have someone damaged to torment and control.

If you need an excuse to see this at the cinema then you really must watch this on the big screen for the action sequences. They were probably my favourite part of the entire film. Eating just one bug turns Renfield into some badass superhero taking on entire rooms of criminals. There are some creative kills – one in particular had me cringing in my seat – and plenty of blood flying about! The makeup and special effects are brilliant too. After being set alight at the beginning of the movie, Dracula spends half the film looking like a barfed up hamburger while he gradually heals. There’s also a scene early on where they’ve used footage from the 1931 film Dracula to bring us up to speed on how they met.

The soundtrack is all over the place from rock to rap to My Chemical Romance, but this film really hates on Ska music. Going by the packed cinema on Wednesday night, nobody there was a Ska fan because people were laughing at all of the jokes. I can’t even tell you the last time I heard people applaud a film when it finished, but that happened too. Not sure I thought it was worthy of applause, but quite a few did.

Review by Katie Torrance
Rating: 3.5/5

Renfield is in cinemas now through Universal Pictures.

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