An unlikely movement to revive the Universal Monsters continues. While the ill-fated “Dark Universe” crashed and burned, the monsters and creatures from the famed studio continue to permeate pop culture. A Blumhouse remake of The Invisible Man became one of the last big hits pre-Covid. Monsters have continually shown up at Halloween Horror Nights. Rumors swirl about their presence in a new theme park in Florida. With more projects in the wings, Nicholas Cage steps into the shoes of Bela Lugosi, and brings the most famous monster to life. While Renfield revolves around Nicholas Hoult, Cage delivers one of the very best performances of the year. With director Chris McKay delivering some gory action setpieces, Renfield feels destined to dominate horror movie parties for years to come.

After centuries of serving Dracula (Cage), Renfield (Hoult) wants more. His relationship with the vampire lord leaves him questioning his value as a person. As he begins to make connections to those in New Orleans, he accidentally stumbles into a corrupt system. He meets the one clean cop Rebecca (Awkwafina). However, his actions put him in the crosshairs of organized crime (Ben Schwartz & Shohreh Aghdashloo). As Dracula catches onto Renfield’s wandering eye, he seeks to reassert his control.

Renfield Nicholas Cage Nicholas Hoult Dracula

McKay works from a script by Robert Kirkman, and the two show their extraordinary knowledge of Dracula lore. The most impressive of Renfield recreate famous moments from films of the past. Yet it would not be a Kirkman project if it did not push the storytelling tropes or add intensely gruesome sequences. McKay brings Kirkman’s screenplay to life with vivid realism, resulting in an absurd and irreverent take on the most famous vampire.

Hoult handles his lead duties with gusto, and elevates a mostly thankless role. Renfield can only succeed if we buy his take on the henchman. Hoult’s performances always contain a sliver of darkness, but the way he plays Renfield is almost inversed. He leads with a dark and broody vibe, but clearly wishes to change his circumstances. It make for a sympathetic character, while showing a different side of himself. With his characters from Warm Bodies, Mad Max: Fury Road and X-Men, he continues to play surprisingly deep blockbuster characters.

Renfield Nicholas Hoult Dracula

However, the scene-stealing Cage overwhelms this movie. Even under layers of makeup, his choices and mannerisms ring through. This is among the very best performances of his career, quite a feat considering how many iconic roles he’s created. He not only pays homage to Lugosi, Lee, and Regehr, but creates his own spin on the character. In last year’s The Unbearbale Weight of Massive Talent, he showed reverence to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. In Renfield, he brings his love of perverse monster movies to life and the passion shines through every moment on screen.

While we received warning that Renfield would be bloody, that turned out to be an understatement. You will see some very gory violence, which becomes so excessive at times that general audiences might find themselves questioning the point. The story of Renfield creates another issue. McKay delivers on the Dracula lore, but Renfield feels torn into two different films. While everything between Hoult and Cage works, the connection to the “real world” struggles to keep up.

Renfield Awkwafina Nicholas Hoult Dracula

This mostly falls on the plotline with the mob and corrupt police of New Orleans. Awkwafina plays comic relief, but her plotline feels overly broad. Even the presence of a sister character (played by Camille Chen), becomes a hat-on-a-hat. While we need Awkwafina to understand Renfield’s ties to humanity, we do not need the same for her character. It becomes clunky, and distracts from Renfield‘s effectiveness. Instead, it creates fake stakes in Renfield, but with so many other motivations at play, this is unneeded.

Renfield brings a ton of energy and very quick runtime. General audiences may be scared away by the gore, but Cage gives plenty of reasons to stay. With Hoult continuing to prove himself a viable leading man, we should see him to continue to join blockbuster projects. While the plot might be light, the scares and atmosphere make Renfield a unique story that stands apart from the modern blockbuster.

Alan’s Rating: 7/10 – Read Brian’s Review Here.

What do you think of Renfield? Let us know in the comments below! Watch Renfield in theaters on April 14th, 2023. Universal Studios Distributes.

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