Everyone has had a bad boss at some point in their lives, whether it is a boss that spontaneously fiddles with employee schedules at the most inconvenient times or bleeds the soul out of employees working on the job to boost their ego.
However, no one in the history of human labor has had a worse boss than Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) in the form of Dracula (Nicolas Cage). Not only does Dracula suck the life out of purely innocent victims to become more powerful, but he also keeps Renfield from enjoying a normal life on his own terms. On second thought, maybe Dracula is not worse than the average boss. At least Dracula offers free health insurance.
After decades of servitude as Dracula’s familiar, Renfield realizes that his relationship with his boss is unhealthy and emotionally abusive. As Renfield finally gains the courage to confront Dracula and live his own life away from servitude, he unintentionally becomes entangled in a war between a powerful New Orleans crime family and a corrupt police department.
If one part of the film’s plot sounds more interesting than the other, that is because it absolutely is. Throughout much of its 93-minute runtime, “Renfield” feels like it is having just as horrible of an identity crisis as Renfield himself. For every element of “Renfield” that is interesting and entertaining, there are two different unenjoyable elements that feel extremely out of place.
“Renfield” is at its best when its sole focus is on the relationship between Renfield and Dracula. During the majority of the first act, there are several story beats introduced regarding these two characters that are complex and fun, like the hilarious lengths Renfield must go to keep Dracula alive when he gets burnt to a crisp by sunlight. Hoult at times single-handedly keeps “Renfield” from being a complete trainwreck. His awkward energy and comedic timing in the role feels genuine and helps make Renfield an endearing character that the audience can easily root for.
Cage is of course the larger standout. The legendary actor imbues Dracula with his trademark: unpredictably chaotic energy. This version of Dracula feels like it was made with Cage in mind and he elevates each scene he appears in. When Hoult and Cage are on screen together, they play off each other incredibly well. In these brief moments, the film shines.
Unfortunately, a significant portion of the story sees Renfield paired up with Rebecca (Awkwafina), an honest cop whose most defined character trait is that she wants to take on crime by the book so she can avenge her father’s death. Although Awkwafina attempts to bring life to this boring character, she does not succeed. The same can be said about Ted Lobo (Ben Schwartz), the heir to the Lobo crime family. Awkwafina and Schwartz are both incredibly charming actors, so it is a shame that both of their personalities annoy in “Renfield” much more than they entertain. What is even more unfortunate is how majorly involved in the story both of their characters are when the film is supposed to primarily be about Renfield and Dracula.
For a horror comedy, the film is neither very funny nor very scary. It has its brief moments of genuine laughs, like when Renfield attends a 12-step help group for people in co-dependent relationships, and some moderate frights. However, it may miss the mark completely for some viewers. Some may find the exaggerated gore heavily featured in action scenes hilarious while others may find it extremely excessive and boring. It also does not help that the visual effects for the gore leave much to be desired. It is laughably bad how after comical explosions of blood, characters within a two-foot radius of the explosion emerge without a single drop on them.
Ugly visual effects aside, the action can at times be creatively inspired. One of the most interesting details in the film is how Renfield must eat insects in order to use the powers that Dracula has given him. Once he ingests the insect, his eyes suddenly turn bright yellow and he quickly gains super strength and agility. It is a striking visual that keeps the audience’s attention during otherwise bland action scenes.
“Renfield” had so much promise. If its sole focus had been on its primary premise, it could have easily lived up to its potential and possibly even surpassed it. Instead, it sucks all blood out of itself and leaves nothing but a husk of what could have been a wholly original and exciting horror comedy.