How do you compete with Nicolas Cage as Nicolas Cage in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent? Nicolas Cage as Count Dracula! It’s rather astonishing that it’s taken this long for Cage to play a vampire, especially since his uncle, Francis Ford Coppola, made a Dracula movie over thirty years ago. Cage is every bit as entertaining as you’d expect, chewing the scenery with razor-sharp teeth that make Christopher Walken’s Headless Horseman in Sleepy Hallow look subtle. As the title suggests, though, this isn’t a Dracula movie. It’s primarily about his long-suffering lackey, R. M. Renfield, played by Nicholas Hoult.
Director Chris McKay goes from The Lego Batman Movie to another bat-centric movie. McKay faithfully recreates the opening scenes of the 1931 classic where Dracula meets Renfield, a real estate agent who should’ve ventured to the other gothic castle on the left. In this version of the story, Dracula outlives generations of vampire slayers with Renfield’s assistance. After their latest brush with death, Renfield takes his master to modern-day New Orleans. They seek refuge in an abandoned hospital that looks an awful lot like L.A.’s Church of Scientology. Actually, that makes too much sense.
Growing tired of the constant bloodshed, Renfield wishes to leave Dracula, but it’s hard when you’ve been stuck in a toxic relationship for nearly a century. Renfield finds inner strength through a support group and an honorable cop named Rebecca (Awkwafina). As Renfield attempts to sever ties with Dracula, Rebecca strives to bring down a crime family led by Shohreh Aghdashloo and Ben Schwartz as her nepo-baby son. It’s only a matter of time until these forces of darkness collide, requiring Renfield and Rebecca to team up. Between the exploding bodies, the two might find time for a little romance as well.
For a film that’s only 93 minutes, Renfield juggles numerous genres, from horror, to crime, to rom-com. Along the way, it manages to incorporate a message of self-love. While it’s cleverly executed, the film isn’t quite as original as it thinks it is. We’ve seen many of these ideas played around with in What We Do in the Shadows. Renfield doesn’t offer as many laughs, although there are enough to sustain the premise, especially whenever Cage is onscreen. While Hoult and Awkwafina turn in reliably good performances, seeing Cage hidden under layers of grotesque makeup will make you wish that this was his movie.
Then again, making Cage the focus might’ve undercut the film’s theme of co-dependency. Renfield may not be the deepest film about toxic relationships, but it is a satisfying breakup movie that can also function as a fun date movie. Interestingly, a toxic relationship was also at the roots of Universal’s last monster reboot, The Invisible Man. We probably won’t see these two franchises collide, but it would make for a more intriguing experiment than the Dark Universe. In any case, Renfield is just the right amount of silly, gory, and insightful. And again, how can you go wrong with Nic Cage as Dracula? Now if we can just get him to play an MCU villain, we’ll be set.