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Renfield (2023) Spoiler-Free Review

When I first saw the trailer for Chris McKay’s direct sequel to Dracula (1931), I was sold. I think comedy and horror are much more alike than is often acknowledged; and this film seemed like a fun, modern deconstruction of a classic character. Centered around Dracula’s assistant, jaded after centuries of placing the Count’s needs before his own, it’s a movie full of heart and very expressive cinematography. It definitely leaned more towards a comedy than a horror film, and there was some copaganda I’m sure readers of this blog in particular would take issue with, but overall, it’s a fun, quick movie with a lot of thrills to offer.

Nicholas Hoult is quickly becoming a notable actor for the horror-comedy genre; this film might not have pushed his acting chops as much as The Menu (2022), but we still get a ton of commitment and emotional range onscreen. He really has a knack for imbuing his characters with a sense of vulnerability, even in off-kilter comedies like this one. I’d also be remiss to not mention Nicolas cage as Dracula. Something about it just works; the deadpan affect sometimes giving way to explosive outbursts adds not only energy, but a sense of hilarity, as if Cage is also aware of just how ridiculous this whole situation is. This balance works so well because the film is grounded in very stylized visuals.

Even before Renfield gets on the bad side of a New Orleans crime boss, we’re treated to a well-executed mix of practical and digital effects: arms are ripped off, high-octane shootouts are had, and of course we get a bit of body horror as Dracula drinks his way back to full health. Along with these effects, the lighting throughout the film make striking use of color that draws us farther into the world McKay and team have created. Everything about the way this film looks is bold, and I appreciate the way it’s so strongly committed to these aesthetics. In certain action sequences, the switch to a handheld camera does a great job of filling the screen with movement and energy, quickening the pace in a very efficient way. My only complaint, as I mentioned, is the copaganda.

While the film definitely makes it clear that the vast majority of the cops on the force are in the pocket of a crime boss, we still have Officer Quincy, played with varying success by Awkwafina, who serves as the good, incorruptible cop that ultimately makes the institution of policing seem salvageable. I’m not even sure why the movie needed this character; she didn’t add a ton to the film, and I felt at times as though we were perhaps too focused on her story rather than the titular character. I’d have liked to have stayed with Renfield more in this movie, to explore his psyche and what exactly made him decide to betray his boss NOW, after centuries of obeying one of history’s most notorious monsters. Despite this big flaw, I think the movie’s logic still attempts to look at policing through a critical-enough lens. We definitely don’t come away thinking that all cops are good guys, and I suppose a story like this never had the necessary infrastructure needed to have a deep and systemic critique.

This movie is far from perfect; but it will make you laugh, and the action sequences are well-executed, nicely shot and decently choreographed. At its heart, Renfield is a free-wheeling dive into the question of whether or not there’s such a thing as ‘too late’ when it comes to correcting our past mistakes and becoming the person we want to be. If you’re looking for a fun movie, this is one to watch in theaters while you still can! If you enjoyed this review, consider subscribing to the blog’s Patreon by clicking here! It helps pay the various fees that come with running a website, and keeps this blog ad-free and independent. There are also some cool benefits for those who choose to support the blog in this way including: suggesting which movies I review, getting personalized movie recommendations, access to free giveaways and more!


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