The enjoyable, mindless absurdity of “Renfield”


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Ashleigh O'Gradney, Staff Writer

“Renfield” arrived following an eye-catching trailer, comparing the titular character’s relationship with Dracula to that of a toxic one and driving intrigued audience members to the theater. Although the film loses its footing in location and romance, it easily compensates with comedic body gore, self-acceptance mantras and simple characters. “Renfield” is a perfect example of silly enjoyment and mindless entertainment.

The box office didn’t take kindly to “Renfield.” It took a whopping $65 million dollars to produce the film, but it only made $7.7 million back during opening weekend. Perhaps this was due to the film’s poor release timing. Sandwiched between “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” and “The Pope’s Exorcist,” the chances of “Renfield” taking a top spot in sales was slim. Or, maybe a film about Dracula and his familiar would have done better if it were released in October for Halloween. Either way, the film still came back with fairly mediocre reviews; a B- from CinemaScore and a 58% on Rotten Tomatoes is hardly something to write home about.

The “Renfield” cast is full of household names starting with the notorious Nicolas Cage as Count Dracula, Nicholas Hoult as Robert Montague Renfield himself and his eventual partner, Rebecca Quincy, is portrayed by Awkwafina. Alongside this trio is Ben Schwartz as Teddy Lobo and Shohreh Aghdashloo as Bellafrancesca, who are the mother-son duo at the top of the infamous Lobo family. Renfield’s therapy group yields some side characters, where only one had a proper storyline (Bess Rous as Caitlyn). Rebecca’s sister Kate (Camille Chen) only serves one real purpose: collateral damage that Dracula can use to get to Rebecca.

The premise of the film is simple: Renfield is trying to get out of his narcissism-driven, co-dependent relationship with Dracula. The phrases “I deserve happiness” and “I will not tolerate abuse” ring over and over in the viewer’s ears as Renfield desperately tries to build a life around his own needs. Normally, a modern-day monster movie using an abusive relationship as a form of entertainment would come back as distasteful and offensive, but “Renfield” is able to avoid this fate. The film adds lightness and stupidity to the topic by humanizing silly characters for the audience to empathize with. The writing also focuses the joke on an individual as opposed to the topic itself–Dracula is a monster in both fantastical horror and real relationships.

The characters themselves and the action in the film fit the simplicity of the storyline. Rebecca is a young, low-level cop who only learned to express anger after the Lobo family killed her father, while her sister Kate manages to deal with it more maturely. Teddy’s motives shift from wanting to kill Rebecca to recruiting Dracula as his family’s partner in crime. Dracula himself is demoted to a secondary character who wishes for world domination and control over Renfield. This is quite unfortunate, as the film ended up pinning Renfield and Rebecca against the Lobo family while Dracula just loiters around. In light of that, the simplicity of the story created a fun and entertaining movie that relieves the audience of the complexity that some other films induce.

Other gripes about this film center around the setting and the relationship between Renfield and Rebecca. “Renfield” is set in New Orleans and its variety of cuisine, rich history and beautiful architecture certainly sets it apart from other cities. And its reputation for voodoo and an eerie, vibrant style make it a perfect setting for the film. But, unfortunately, it holds no significance to the story, leading audiences to forget that it’s the main location of the film.

The relationship between Renfield and Rebecca comes off as forced and awkward. The writers attempted to illustrate her as his “love at first sight” due to her bravery when standing up to Teddy, but this doesn’t last after the audience sees absolutely no chemistry between the two actors. Awkwafina is the perfect example of typecasting, as her characters always share the same mannerisms and language. The kind of character she plays doesn’t really lend itself to any tender, heartfelt or romantic moments which is a big reason for the awkwardness between her and Hoult. It would have been a better idea to leave these two as friends and scrap the romantic subtlety.

When compared to the trailer, “Renfield” is exactly what it was painted out to be. This comedically-gory horror film puts a modern-day spin on an old monster tale. Its simplicity allows for audiences to sit back and enjoy Cage’s quirky take on Dracula and Renfield’s path to self-love and acceptance. In essence, “Renfield” is the perfect film to throw on when a mindless movie feels most appropriate.

Rating: 7/10