I walked in to see “Renfield” expecting a camp, silly rendition of a classic vampiric tale — what else can you expect from Nick Cage? I walked out having witnessed exactly that, in addition to a surprisingly touching story about codependency, narcissism and breaking away from abusive relationships.
Nicholas Hoult plays Renfield. In the original novel, Renfield is in an asylum, driven mad by Dracula’s influence — he consumes insects instead of blood, to have even a sliver of Dracula’s power. At the end of his life, he begs others to break free of Dracula, and attempts to fight him — but dies in the process.
In this rendition, Renfield still consumes insects and is curiously a “real estate lawyer” — he seems to be a mashup between the original Renfield character and the original protagonist of “Dracula,” Jonathan Harker (who is a conveyancing solicitor, a unique and boring type of English real estate lawyer). Renfield met Dracula more than 100 years ago, and much like Harker, is an unassuming, good natured and meek man. He has served as a servant and familiar of Dracula (Nicholas Cage) for all this time, having abandoned his wife and child. The pair now live in 21st century New Orleans, and Renfield is still tasked with bringing Dracula the blood of good and innocent people. Plagued with guilt, self-doubt and misery at his codependent and abusive relationship with Dracula, Renfield goes to a local support group for those in toxic relationships.
Slowly, Renfield begins to reclaim agency over his life. He gets his own place, and begins to fall for a local police officer, Evelyn, who is dealing with her own toxic relationship with her employer. Her father was killed at the hands of the local mafia, and she cannot seem to arrest those responsible because the police department is in bed with organized crime. Together, Renfield and Evelyn begin to make their own identities, apart from the abusers who have dominated their lives.
But as is so often the case, Renfield’s abuser becomes the most vicious and dangerous right as Renfield attempts to break free and start his own life. Dracula targets Renfield’s loved ones, breaks him down, tells him he’s worthless without Dracula, tells him all he has suffered is his own fault. Together, Renfield and Evelyn finally find their voices and fight back.
Camp, witty, touching and utterly hilarious, “Renfield” is a surprisingly engaging watch. The fight scenes are well choreographed and about as bloody as you’d expect from a vampire slasher. Nicholas Cage is in his element, delivering an over-the-top Dracula who is surprisingly convincing as a narcissistic abuser (while still being funny). Nicholas Hoult plays the affable, sad-boy, sympathetic Englishman well (down to the colorful “jumper” — which is what English people call sweaters). His chemistry with Evelyn is heartwarming. A feel-good film about taking back your life and standing up for yourself, “Renfield” is well worth the watch. You might find yourself laughing and crying at the same time.