Movie review: 'Renfield' matches Nicolas Cage intensity with satire, gore

Nicolas Cage plays Dracula in "Renfield." Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures
1 of 5 | Nicolas Cage plays Dracula in "Renfield." Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

LOS ANGELES, April 11 (UPI) -- "Nicolas Cage as Dracula" would be enough to make any movie a must-see. Renfield, in theaters Friday, adds even more layers to support Cage's portrayal of the vampire and give him a fun milieu in which to play.

Robert Montague Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) has been Dracula's familiar since the 1931 Bela Lugosi movie, of which Hoult and Cage re-enact black and white scenes. Dracula gives his familiar just enough power to subdue humans on whom Dracula can feast.


Renfield and Dracula have relocated to New Orleans in the present, an apt location given how many Cage movies make that city their port of call. Dracula needs more blood to recover from his encounter with the last angry mob, while Renfield finds a support group for codependents.


Dracula was always a big tease, promising Renfield his power but really just dangling the carrot in front of Renfield to make him do Dracula's dirty work. Extending that relationship for 100 years does make it codependent.

Dracula's neglect of Renfield is blatant, but the film joins Dracula in the dysfunction. In one scene, the camera even hastily adjusts to acknowledge Renfield as he's been an afterthought.

The film has as much fun with the relationship movie formula as it does with the horror genre. Renfield gets his own makeover montage and it is appropriately goofy.

As the main attraction, Cage's portrayal of Dracula does not disappoint. Cage brings rock n' roll touches to his physicality while honoring the classical legacy.

Cage wears prosthetic makeup in Dracula's worse states. Cage is able to get his maniacal expressions through all the prosthetics.

But, Cage also turns on the menace. This Dracula is not a buffoon.

He's still as dangerous as the Dracula adapted from Bram Stoker, albeit far more graphic than 1931 films could portray. Dracula has a body count in Renfield.

Where many comedies coast on a single premise, Renfield escalates very quickly. In addition to the codependency theme, Renfield also interrupts a hit by local mobster Tedward Lobo (Ben Schwartz).


Witnessing Renfield's ability to take out Lobo's hitman, Lobo runs screaming to Officer Rebecca Quinn (Awkwafina). Lobo is still connected enough to get out of jail, and Rebecca has been pursuing the Lobos her whole career because they killed her officer father.

That means Lobo sending a lot more hitmen after Renfield and Rebecca. Renfield employs a familiar Hollywood fighting style, but with wirework comically exaggerated beyond The Matrix and with the absurd gore of an '80s slasher movie.

The brisk pace amplifies the comedy because real psychological growth can take up to 90 years, not 90 minutes. Yet, in that time, Renfield also sets up all the mythology that will be pertinent to the story, and it includes a lot of vampire lore that all pays off.

That pace also forgives any oversimplification in its brevity. The film really only touches on psychology buzzwords but it works well enough to satirize Dracula and codependency.

Rebecca has a sister (Camille Chen) in the FBI. Their differences despite shared grief are not really developed.

Vampirism has been used as a metaphor throughout storytelling, from Stoker's suggestions of blood sucking as disease and addiction to Buffy, the Vampire Slayer's depictions of the monstrosity of high school.


Renfield updates the metaphor with the modern language used to discuss toxic relationships. The metaphor is poignant, but more importantly a fun, violent romp with the ultimate macabre showman.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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