Robert Montague Renfield is in a destructive relationship which cost him his family, his career goals and his personal dreams and has left him in the service of an abusive master for over ninety years, undertaking numerous unsavoury tasks at his behest and serving as his primary carer even though, a few specific weaknesses aside, Renfield’s powers are only a fraction of those his master has at his disposal, but no more: it is time for him to save himself from Dracula.
Finding themselves in the basement of the abandoned Charity Hospital in New Orleans, Renfield has begun to make steps with the support of a twelve-step programme for those seeking to escape co-dependent relationships, but Dracula is less than thrilled at his familiar’s impudent intention to become independent, nor is Renfield’s required low profile holding up, the first good deed of his new life having been to very publicly save police officer Rebecca Quincy in a restaurant shootout with the equally unforgiving Lobos crime family.
The proposed “Dark Universe” to relaunch the Universal Monsters banner having tripped at the first hurdle, instead a full reverse reinvents their legacy as the “Lite Universe” as they go back to the basics of Tod Browning’s 1931 Dracula starring Béla Lugosi in the title role and Dwight Frye as Renfield, the monochrome footage of their initial meeting now reworked to feature Mandy‘s Nicolas Cage andThe Menu‘s Nicholas Hoult before jumping to the diseased colours of the present day in neon-lit New Orleans.
The despondent Renfield bathed in sickly greens as he ponders his zoophagous existence before the happenstance encounter with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings‘ Awkwafina as Rebecca, targeted for assassination by The Expanse‘s Shohreh Aghdashloo as the raging Bellafrancesca Lobo, as he rediscovers his self-worth his pallor improves though not his dress sense as he experiments with pastel jumpers, but soon all is splashed in blood as both Dracula and the Lobos take exception to his well-intentioned intervention.
Directed by The Tomorrow War’s Chris McKay with enough manic energy to keep the blood pumping throughout, frequently squirting out of severed limbs or the stumps left behind, the eccentric and unpredictable Cage is perfectly cast as the narcissistic and needy Dracula, eternally ungrateful as only an immortal can be, but it is Hoult and Awkwafina who keep the heart of the film beating, relatable and likeable people struggling through circumstances which an Englishman such as Renfield would describe as “trying.”
Written by Ryan Ridley from a story by The Walking Dead’s Robert Kirkman, of course inspired by Bram Stoker’s original novel, Renfield does not does not trouble itself to delve deeply into the characters but nor does it need to, so busy is it having fun with them and the apparently unlimited supply of henchmen and dirty cops who present themselves as lambs to the slaughter, the umpteenth reimagining of Dracula perhaps but one which is at least as fresh as the copious bodies.