Before I go off a bit on Renfield, let me state something up front: Nicolas Cage in this film is, unquestionably, one of the funniest, scariest and most eccentric Draculas in cinema history. If you are a Cage fan, there are things he does—little, brilliantly funny moments—that make Renfield worth seeing, if only for those.
Now that we have that out of the way, it must be stated that, overall, the movie is a failure—an opportunity for a classically fun horror venture destroyed by some brutal narrative mistakes. Those mistakes result in too many minutes being a complete drag. It’s a real letdown.
Nicholas Hoult plays the title character, Dracula’s manservant who has been hanging out with him for many decades. The film cleverly places Hoult and Cage in black-and-white flashbacks with the vibe of the 1931 Bela Lugosi take on the character. Great touch.
Things start promisingly enough, but the main gag of Renfield being depressed and codependent quickly becomes tiresome, and a subplot involving a crime syndicate in New Orleans is a supreme dud thanks, in part, to lousy casting of the villains.
Cage, meanwhile, shows up here and there—at first in varying well-done states of decay—and puts his nutty spin on Nosferatu. There are moments—including him introducing himself to Renfield’s support group in a way that’s almost bashful at times—that are laugh-out-loud funny. There are also moments where Cage is genuinely scary.
But then the movie reverts back to Renfield being all depressed and gloomy; he only really comes to life when he eats the occasional bug to become a super-fighter—in super-violent and gory sequences, with a video-game feel, that clash with the Cage material. It’s disjointed and disorientating, and it ultimately takes the film down a few notches.
They should’ve just called the movie Dracula and made it completely crazy with Cage at the center. Trying to be clever by making Renfield the star is a mistake. Dracula shouldn’t be a supporting character, especially not Cage’s awesome version of Dracula.
They should’ve let Hoult play Renfield in a supporting role as the classic crazy, overly happy version of the character (complete with his wheezy laugh), but with a hint of depression and codependency. That could’ve been a great side gag. It’s a mistake making his serious problem the crux of the movie. Hoult is forced to play the character realistically as a sad sack, which is a chore to watch.
Despite its promise, Renfield flopped at theaters, and it’s pretty easy to see why. It’s a shame, because Cage is truly glorious here, with some of the most fun he’s ever had onscreen. If you are a Cage fan, rent it when it hits the streaming services, and diminish your overall expectations. If you are not a Cage fan, it’s best to avoid Renfield.