Renfield: A Vampire Film (sort of)

So many film adaptations of Bram’s Stoker’s Dracula have appeared over the years, surely there’s no original angle left? Renfield, which focuses on the famous vampire’s assistant rather than the big man himself, makes a brave effort to prove critics wrong.

In Stoker’s original novel Renfield is a mentally ill man who becomes increasingly enchanted by the vampire’s mysterious powers and eventually turns into his servant. The film takes various liberties with this premise: it is set in modern-day New Orleans and Renfield is not struggling with mental illness, although he does visit an emotional support group for people who are stuck in coercive relationships.

This brief summary is probably enough to tell serious vampire-story fans that Renfield does not try to be a horror film or faithful adaptation of the original story. Instead the film is a horror comedy which, while including a few moralistic points about the importance of true love and being yourself, mostly sets out to make audiences laugh.

The plot, I should say, is the film’s major weakness. Without wanting to spoil too much of it, the second half of the film is quite predictable and formulaic. I would have liked to see more nods to the rich history of vampires in popular culture. There’s so much material waiting to be pastiched but the film does not really go there.

That said, I had a great time with this film and if you just sit back and go with its crazy flow there’s plenty to enjoy. The sets look great, as do the refreshingly CGI-free special effects, and the costume and make-up designers deserve a shout out. The cast are clearly having fun delivering the occasionally VERY cheesy jokes, and Nicolas Cage may well be one of the best Draculas I have ever seen.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention that Nicolas Cage plays Dracula and does an excellent job. Cage is often criticised for his over the top acting, but I find it works well in over the top films such as this one or Mandy (2018). He’s equally creepy and funny, like an up to date Nosferatu, and while he doesn’t appear as much as the trailer suggests he steals every scene he’s in.

His limited screen time, by the way, is in line with Stoker’s novel, where the vampire is more of an invisible threat than the main character. As in Stoker’s story, Renfield is really about humans, most specifically Renfield’s attempts to develop his own identity and his clumsily evolving relationship with hard-talking cop Rebecca (played excellently by Awkwafina). Expect to leave the cinema feeling warm and fuzzy inside. If that’s not what you’re looking for, well, perhaps Evil Dead Rise is more up your street.

Photo by Clément Falize on Unsplash

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