‘Renfield’ Review: Zero Stars for Loud, Obnoxious, Violent Junk

This surfeit of loud, obnoxious, violent calamity audaciously claims to call itself a vampire farce. But amidst the gouged eyes, severed heads, and exploding bodies there's barely one laugh.

Nicolas Cage (left) and Nicholas Hoult in ‘Renfield.’ Michele K Short/Universal Pictures

Although the length of Renfield is mercifully brief, an hour and a half of total garbage is more torture than a sane mind deserves. The worst film since Babylon, this surfeit of loud, obnoxious, violent junk audaciously claims to call itself a vampire farce, but there isn’t a genuine shred of originality anywhere in sight and it’s as witty as an ambulance with a flat tire.

RENFIELD (0/4 stars)
Directed by: Chris McKay
Written by: Ryan Ridley
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Awkwafina, Ben Schwartz, Adrian Martinez, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Nicolas Cage
Running time: 93 mins.

Renfield is a testament to the mediocrity of movies in general these days, so I shouldn’t be surprised, but I had higher hopes for the idea of a film that further explores the colorful but understated character of Renfield, Count Dracula’s loyal servant, so memorably immortalized in the classic 1931 horror film by Dwight Frye. After centuries of abusive servitude, the pathetic creature tires of procuring fresh bodies for his narcissistic master and sets out on his own to see if there’s life outside the various asylums he calls home, a respectable job besides slavery to the Prince of Darkness, and the taste of something besides the meals of rats and spiders provided by his mean-spirited boss. So I approached a film about the mind and feelings of Dracula’s only partner in depravity with elation and the promise of something fresh and interesting. The result, I’m sorry to say, had the excitement of a dried prune and the impact of  a tax audit.

From a screenplay as vibrant as road kill to a uniformly miscast list of actors who can’t even bring an eternity of the undead back to life with computer graphics, everything about this calamitous cinematic demolition derby goes wrong. Nicholas Hoult is too young and handsome to play a freak who has existed for centuries on a menu devoid of protein. Among the criminally wasted is Shoreh Aghdashloo, the powerful, Oscar-nominated Iranian actress from House of Sand and Fog. Watching her share the screen with the dreadful rapper-actress Awkwafina is one of the year’s major embarrassments. And worst of all, Nicolas Cage chews every piece of scenery that isn’t nailed to the floor as Count Dracula himself. It’s not the first time he’s played a bloodsucker, but nobody remembers a microcosmic mess called Vampire’s Kiss. Now, playing the Transylvanian terror might be a bad dream on his overcrowded bucket list, but even with black lipstick from years of draining jugulars, press-on nails and yellow razor blades for teeth, flying like a bat through the midnight streets of New Orleans with a penchant for tourists and nuns, he’s no scarier than a Halloween card from Walgreen’s. His Dracula is a cadaverous chunk of bloody hamburger covered with sores, sipping plasma from a martini glass, and he overplays every scene under the clueless direction of a hack named Chris McKay. Mr. Cage is a fearless actor (in real life, also one of the nicest), but as Dracula he’s also outrageous, absurd, and hysterically over the top—more Butthead than Bela.

Fortunately he doesn’t have much to do. The moronic screenplay by Ryan Ridley focuses mainly on Renfield, who  decides, after centuries of dragging Dracula’s capes to the dry cleaners, to throw in the towel and get a life. To change, claim his freedom from his toxic, narcissistic boss and grow to full power, he starts by buying a colorful sweater at Macy’s, moving to present-day New Orleans in modern clothes, and enrolling in group-therapy sessions for disillusioned co-dependants. (Ridley seems unaware that Anne Rice got to the Big Easy first, with a much more interesting band of vampires, rendering any attempt at originality dead on arrival.) Renfield’s goal: To fly like Lugosi, eat some beignets in the French Quarter without his usual menu of flies, and, God forbid, find . . . happiness. To that end, the movie follows all of the current trashy trends—gouged eyes, severed heads, exploding bodies spraying blood all over the wallpaper, and worse—while it seeks but fails to find a believable balance between fright flick and farce.  I went out of curiosity—the same curiosity, it turns out, that killed the cat.

Observer Reviews are regular assessments of new and noteworthy cinema.



‘Renfield’ Review: Zero Stars for Loud, Obnoxious, Violent Junk