Signal Horizon

See Beyond

{Panic Fest 2023} Renfield

Courtesy of Universal

Chris McKay knows how to make a movie that will keep your attention. The Lego movies are fast-moving, and filled with popular culture references for all sorts of crowds. Above all, though, they are funny. Renfield follows in that vein ( a dripping bloody vein). You can see McKay’s growth and maturity in this film. That being said, NO ONE would call this film mature. Fun? Absolutely. If the trailer looks like your jam (aka lots of gory violence, genre references galore, and humor that is crude but not offensive), you will not be disappointed.

We first meet our boy Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) through a voiceover as he goes through his relationship with the lord of darkness (Nicholas Cage himself). From the initial meeting (Nicholas Cage is inserted into what looks like old Dracula footage. It is quite creative and reminded me of the same technique Speilberg used in Forrest Gump. A dark horror version of Forrest Gump now there is a future idea) to the current day, we learn the ins and outs of their relationship. Mostly Renfield brings outside people into Dracula’s lair so the vampire can put them in his belly. After vampire hunters almost kill Dracula, Renfield moves them to New Orleans to convalesce. It is here in NOLA that Renfield starts to attend a self-help group. This group empowers Renfield to seek more out of his relationship with his master. The rest of the film unravels as upping his standards means ultimately saying up yours to the Romanian Dragon. As one could guess, it doesn’t go well.

You can tell McKay is growing as an artist. He knows what works. The confidence and swagger that this project has is palpable. At one point, Renfield details where his superpowers come from. Whenever he eats an insect, he gets a bit of Dracula’s power. Renfield articulates Dracula’s power comes from drinking blood. His comes from eating insects. Why? Just because. That is the hand wave McKay gives the problem, and it absolutely works. Just tell us the rules and trust the audience to follow them.

It is easy to trust a movie when your principals are Cage and Hoult, who are both just chewing through the scenes they are in. The scenes they share are delectable. Remarkably if I had any complaint regarding this area, rarely are there scenes in the final act with just the two of them. The early scenes that feature just the two of them help propel the movie along, but in the final act when we get some exposition with only one of them, the film drags a bit. I want to see Renfield talking to Dracula and vice versa. I mostly get Dracula talking to the mafia at the end, and it is just not as fun.

Courtesy of Universal

As we meet the wider cast of characters, including Bellafrancesca Lobo (widely respected and prolific character actor Shohreh Aghdashloo), the focus becomes more action-oriented, and the tightness of the script takes over. Let’s face it. The action is why most of us came to see this movie (oh, and Nick Cage being exactly who we expect him to be). It does not disappoint. It is gory, creative, and unexpectedly funny. At one point, Renfield tears off the arms of a baddie and beats two other bad guys to death with them before throwing the same two arms and impaling two other goons across the apartment complex. It is silly, but I laughed out loud. That is more or less exactly how I felt about the whole film. Incredibly silly, but a ton of fun.

The script is sharp and rarely wastes a moment. The comedy work must come from Ryan Ridley, whose work on Rick and Morty shines through, as most of the jokes are at least a little bit smart. The real horror of the film can be felt in Robert Kirkman’s script, as the film is not afraid to kill off beloved characters. The only character without any supernatural influence offers perhaps the strongest performance. Awkwafina plays Rebecca, a police officer surrounded by corruption, attempting to do the right thing. She is tough. Not like tough acting (she is that too), but actually physically tough. I bought that Rebecca possesses all the skills necessary t at least be helpful to Renfield late in the movie. She is earnest and funny but, above all, tough. I could watch an entire movie about her and her redemption arc, as long as she keeps the same snide humor.

Renfield is not breaking new ground. Allowing Nicholas Cage to ham it up as Dracula seems a stroke of genius but one that seems a natural fit to genre fans who love what Cage brings. We have seen ultraviolent movies that revel in the blood volume and body count before. Sometimes though, you just want to laugh with a theatre full of your friends when a good guy beats the literal shit out of the bad guy. Renfield is that movie. Settle down with a nice glass of June Bugs and enjoy it. It is out now, but I caught it as part of Panic Fest 2023. Check it out now.