Renfield (Universal Pictures, R)

When I first saw the trailer for Renfield, I assumed that the support group the title character (Nicholas Hoult) attends was only there in service of a quick joke to introduce Dracula (Nicolas Cage). To my pleasant surprise, the film actually has an extended focus on self-improvement that contrasts well comedically with the ultra-bloody, sometimes ultra-cheesy (in a good way) vampire action. To my dismay, these two elements were not enough to make Renfield a home run in the way that I think many horror fans were hoping and expecting. However, it’s still an enjoyable romp despite its pacing and plot issues.

R.M. Renfield is a character in Bram Stoker’s original Dracula novel. In the novel, he was an inmate in an asylum who later becomes Dracula’s servant and familiar. In Ryan Ridley’s script, Renfield was once a real estate agent who was dissuaded from a scheme by Dracula’s offers of power and immortality. Now, having been at the servant job for about a century, Renfield is more than ready to move on from bringing his master victim after victim, and he certainly feels like a victim himself.

What makes the film work perhaps more than anything is its two leading men. Whoever initially thought to cast Nic Cage as Dracula deserves a bonus, because that’s what’s going to make this film a success. Cage surprisingly doesn’t ham it up as much as you might expect, and that actually leads to a better performance. Dracula is sly and scheming here, qualities which lend credence to Renfield’s likening of his boss to an abusive spouse. Don’t get me wrong — Cage is still chewing scenery when he’s not chewing necks, but he doesn’t take over the entire film like he does in Vampire’s Kiss, for example.

What Cage allows for here is a nice chemistry to build between his side of the film and Hoult’s. Hoult is such a versatile and fun actor to watch, and it’s a joy to see him really carry a big-budget movie for the first time. His Renfield is troubled enough to sell the character-based humor, but also just confident enough to sell the action, as silly as it might be.

There’s a b-plot surrounding Awkwafina as Rebecca Quincy, a low-level police officer who gets involved — logistically and romantically — with Renfield. For what is on screen, this section isn’t badly executed in any way, but it really shows why the film could have used an extra fifteen minutes or so. A couple of glaring plot holes arise from this storyline, and it definitely feels like some major connective tissue was cut out to get to a ninety-minute runtime.

Renfield, Rebecca, and Dracula all get involved with a New Orleans crime family, which brings Ben Schwartz into the picture as Teddy Lobo, a loose-cannon member of the family. Schwartz is another actor whose comedic presence can potentially steamroll a movie like Cage’s presence can, but director Chris McKay wisely uses him as sparingly as possible. I will say I thought he had the funniest moment in the entire movie, but in a movie that is juggling a few different tones, the large number of laughs throughout keep it from ever feeling like a competition.

The film aims to be a crowd-pleasing horror comedy, and it absolutely succeeds at that. The only issue is that in its rushed pacing and choppy editing, it ends up showing a few interesting sides of itself that are never followed up on, and that could have made it so much more. Still, if you go in purely for a blood-sucking good time, you’ll definitely have one.| George Napper

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