‘Renfield’, the latest from director Chris McKay, is silly.
It takes mythical characters that have become an indelible part of our cultural zeitgeist and laughs at them. It doesn’t take any of the morose heaviness of the Dracula tragedy seriously.
And that is why Renfield is so great.
It is not beholden to the legend, if anything it plays as an irreverent satire of the idea of classical monsters. Monsters, you see, are not typically the undead bloodsuckers who commands legions of rats.
Monsters are much more subtle than that. Monsters can even be sweet. They can make promises, they can apologize, they can coddle.
And then they manipulate and hurt you all over again.
That is what makes a monster.
The villainy of abusive relationships is what Renfield is built on. Its narrative is built on abuse, murder, and gore.
And it is hilarious.
“Looney Tunes” with blood (oh so much blood).
Honestly, that is what is so impressive about this film. That the filmmakers created a cocktail of a legendary monster, abusive relationships, murder, crime, and death…and then made it silly.
Audience members will giggle at death. They will laugh at murder, they will guffaw at toxic relationships.
This is what makes Renfield not just palatable, but enjoyable. The humor here is the salve. A fresh approach to terrible themes that result in a message of empowerment and strength, all while beating villains with detached arms.
The cast is impeccable here, arguably the entire reason the comedy works. Nicolas Cage brings his usual passion and energy to Dracula. Nicholas Hoult is charming, sheepish, and surprisingly sympathetic. Awkwafina brings the charm and comedic timing we’ve all become accustomed to. And Ben Schwartz is a bit of an unsung hero here. Given the loaded cast, it’s understandable he wasn’t in much of the marketing; but his performance as Tedward Lobo is simply incredible. The same cadence and timing he has shown in so many performances is present, and seems to even elevate a bit once he’s given some evil to chew on in the later part of this film.
The directorial style of this is what could only be called ‘Michael Bay with extra sprinkles of the early 90s’. It is slick, colorful, and smooth. Some of the exposition scenes could be taken from ‘Lethal Weapon’ or ‘The Last Boyscout’. This somehow makes these small scenes of quick exposition, which are typically played straight, hilarious and satirical.
So yes, Renfield is silly. But is also widely entertaining. It is a movie about abuse and violence that is somehow shockingly fun and charming.