One of the more spectacular duds of recent memory was Universal Pictures’ attempt at creating a cinematic universe with the spectacularly short-lived Dark Universe that began and ended (unless you count Dracula Untold for some reason) with 2017’s The Mummy starring Tom Cruise. Since they quickly abandoned this concept, Universal has been far more experimental with their horror IPs – Leigh Whannel’s The Invisible Man is an excellent example of how a clear, passionate, creative vision can go a long way behind the camera. This brings us to Chris McKay’s Renfield, which in hindsight, a humorous horror comedy starring Nic Cage as the iconic Dracula is a pretty funny move considering the aforementioned Dracula Untold was their last outing with the character.
And honestly – why would you go any other route? The casting of Nicolas Cage as Dracula is as equally perfect on-screen as it is on paper. He eats up each and every sequence he’s in, and fully delivers on his potential for the role. Unfortunately, he’s trapped in a film that feels like a rough draft – a comedy nearly void of any huge laughs or memorable moments. This is quite a shock for me, as I think the cast here is quite impressive and I actually think Chris McKay is a true talent behind the camera. In fact – all of these elements are the things that work about the film. Nicolas Hoult turns in quite a committed and balanced performance of both comedy and heart, and McKay’s direction is pretty stylish and inventive at times – especially in regards to the action sequences where McKay clearly has a specialty.
What really weighs the film down by the end are two components. The first of which is the screenplay, which just feels fairly lazy and void of any effort to make this anything but the most basic version of this story it can possibly be. The premise of Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) trying to break-free of his duty to serve Dracula is a fun one, and associating it to that of a “toxic relationship” to modernize it is quite clever. But the film truly never feels like it makes any moves to dig into the potential for that premise; it just has the most basic attempts at jokes and never once commits to actually exploring their dynamic in any sort of interesting way.
The second component that I found oddly infuriating was that of the editing, which I found to be surprisingly atrocious at times. It’s so genuinely stilted and awkward at times, as if the film was at a 90-minute running-time mandate for some reason, and it resulted in the choppiest of scenes. The editing literally makes a lot of the jokes worse than they already are due to the pacing of them – and the action sequences in particular often suffer due to the choppiness of it all. It’s especially frustrating when you can tell McKay and the stunt team/choreographers are putting in solid work in front-of and behind the camera.
All in all, Renfield is a weird mishmash of a movie. There are a lot of things here that clearly work (it can’t be overstated enough that Nicolas Cage absolutely owns as Dracula and I’d be remiss to not give a quick shout out to the always fantastic Ben Schwartz, who delivers some of the best laughs of the film and fully goes for it) and a lot of people putting in solid effort both in front-of and behind the camera, but it never once feels like it can overcome a truly lackluster script and a seemingly bad post-production. It’s far from the worst film of the year, but it feels disappointingly half-baked considering the vast potential of the concept and talent at hand.