The trailer for Chris McKay’s Renfield (2023) promised a modern take on the relationship between Dracula (Nicolas Cage) and his henchman Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) that focused on the nature of toxic relationships. Renfield looked like it was going to be a classic comedy-horror film that would turn Bram Stoker’s novel on its head. But, as we should all know by now, looks can be deceiving.
Instead, the director of The Tomorrow War (2021) turns in a film that is light on the comedy, gestures towards horror and emphasizes action. Renfield is an action movie. Half the film deals with the Awkwafina character’s vendetta against an organized crime family. She’s the cop that couldn’t stop. Turning half the movie over to her arc and contriving ways to have it intersect with the Dracula/Renfield relationship isn’t inherently a bad idea. The issue is that Ryan Ridley’s script cannot conjure a real character for Awkwafina to play. Reduced to playing an archetype that seems prioritized in the name of inclusivity does Awkwafina and the film in general a disservice.
This dichotomy of horror-comedy and action flick makes Renfield a jarring experience. If it weren’t for Nicolas Cage’s awesome performance as the world’s most famous vampire there would be no reason to see the film at all. But Cage isn’t actually in Renfield all that much. Audiences are here to see Cage be Dracula but Chris McKay pulls the old switcheroo and hands audiences an Awkwafina/Nicholas Hoult buddy movie instead.
If the promise made by inserting Cage and Hoult into Tod Browning’s Dracula (1931) had been delivered then Renfield would likely be one of my favorite films of the last ten years. But Chris McKay is Chris McKay and nothing is ever going to change that. Fans of Nicolas Cage and vampire movies should prepare themselves to be disappointed by Renfield.