Renfield (2023) Hey, Kids. It's Only a Movie!
The internet beat-down has begun on a movie that, announced in 2021, had Dracula fans (pro and con) excited enough to speculate on just how bad or good it would be. All of those armchair critics must have been waiting for the opening weekend so they could hit the message boards and social media with mandates that its $10 million opening weekend dictates that it is a colossal failure for Universal Pictures. Most of the negative comments by "fans" of horror and monster movies (and, yes, my friends, Renfield is a monster movie) focus on the film's $65 million price tag and how it will never make its money back. I was unaware that so many Universal stockholders would weigh in on a movie that most (based on ticket sales) have yet to bother to see.
Those same guys and gals suddenly worried about Universal's fiscal well-being used this measuring stick to determine if it was worth watching because the movie did not open to a $100 million gross. What a silly and wasteful way to choose if you like a movie. Even sillier if you are typing away ham-fisted on a computer keyboard about how awful it is or how "This isn't MY Dracula." instead of just getting off your ass and buying a ticket and backing up your entertainment business acumen by actually watching the picture.
Let me address this odd fascination with throwing out what a movie costs versus what it made in its first few days as the reason it must be awful. Let the movie money pundits at Variety and The Hollywood Reporter surmise what will happen and how. Those people get paid to do so. You do not, and since when does a film's budget dictate how bad or good it must be? It never has before. There is no formula for that. Never has been, and that has not been for lack of trying. After one hundred-plus year of attempting to scientifically perfect that intangible formula, no studio head or cubicle critter has yet to figure it out.
Let me also address one other thing (yes, I'm doing a lot of addressing here), if a picture doesn't move you enough to buy a ticket and see the show, fair enough. If you have determined that this isn't "your" Dracula, that is also perfectly acceptable. Horror fans like to think of themselves as the most open-minded film buffs strolling the planet, but a quick read of the vitriol spewed out on Renfield (even weeks before its release) shows the rest of the fan groups that some horror fans still have a lot of growing up to do.
Ok. I've gotten that out of my system. Now, let's talk about this weird little monster movie called Renfield.
This may not be "your" Dracula. Still, this little nugget fits in perfectly with all the other Dracula films that were also nobody's Dracula's [I am pretty sure that sentence is not grammatically correct].
Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972), Billy the Kid Vs. Dracula (1966), and Dracula's Dog (1977), were also nobody's Dracula movies when they were released, but that didn't stop all of us horror fans from snapping up their DVD or Blu-ray releases decades later and declaring them "classics." Is Renfield a classic? Based on the "fans" viewpoints, we may have to wait a few decades to see.
The picture has a few things going for it. The maestro of film weirdness, Nicolas Cage, plays Dracula like it was the role he was meant to play. Make no bones about it, Renfield is a vehicle for Cage's version of The Count, and he delivers in spades. Stripped of the romanticism of every other Dracula in movie history (save for George Hamilton's take), Nicolas Cage sinks his teeth into the role. He conjures up elements of Lugosi as well as Lee. This is done by design because visually, we are treated in various frames to familiar poses and scenes that ape classic Dracula films we all know by rote. It all flows fast and furious, serves as a nod to fans of vampire films, and is done very well. Cage's Dracula chews on every scene he is a part of and lets go just in time before it becomes maudlin. It is clear that Cage has some skin (and blood) in this movie, and the best part of Renfield is, indeed, Nicolas Cage.
The weakest link is Renfield himself. As the titular character, Nicholas Hoult gives his all, but the storyline could have used a dash of something else. After hundreds of years of being The Count's servant, Renfield is convinced he has been unwillingly codependent on Drac after attending several group therapy sessions. It is a decidedly 21st-century approach to the story, but something is missing. Fortunately for us, before we can start overthinking the plot, we are treated to some Marvel comic-style action sequences and more cartoonish gore than we bargained for. It's a monster movie with no valleys. Everything is a peek here. Sometimes it works, and sometimes, maybe not so much.
Supporting cast stand-outs are limited to just two. Nora Lum (A.K.A. Awkwafina) pulls the action, comedy, and horror together nicely. Outside of Cage's sly comedy jabs, Lum is the comedy relief here. As Lum's partner/side-kick, Adrian Martinez is also responsible for the bulk of the laughs. Sadly, the rest of the supporting cast is just along for the ride.
So, what do you get for a 90-minute monster movie ride? A little comedy, action, and some fantastic acting by Nicolas Cage. Renfield is a popcorn movie and a refreshing one on that level. The large bucket I bought held out for the entire picture. Ninety minutes is just the right amount of time for a monster flick. We need more Ninety-minute monster movies right about now.
Renfield may not be "your" Dracula. But, it's a fun Dracula that takes the time to acknowledge the four-thousand Drac iterations that came before it while also carving out its niche among all of those weird Dracula movies horror fans hated upon release but now seem to be loved by all.