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Renfield (2023) Review

Count Dracula has been one of the most prominent vampiric figures in media, dating back to Bram Stroker's 1897 Gothic novel that launched the popularity of legend into the mainstream media. Since, countless iterations of the Count have dominated the entertainment landscape in transmedial forms. While the popularity of Dracula has flourished across centuries, little love has been given to his assistant, R. M. Renfield. Renfield, known for his frantic, if not deranged, behavior, was devout to serving Dracula's every need in exchange for a promise of immortality (and insects to eat).

The under-appreciation of Renfield as a secondary character in the world of classic horror has been noted by Universal Pictures as they've attempted to revive their Monsters Universe. Universal Pictures succeeded in bringing back much-needed attention and cultural relevance for Dracula's assistant, but their means were perhaps too heavy-handed when taking creative liberties.

The concept of a film dedicated to Renfield sounds like a great idea from a creative standpoint - but it doesn't exactly meet the expectations or tonal consistency that have been set out for it from taking what's known about Renfield into consideration. There's the pre-notion that Universal Pictures would sink their teeth into Transylvanian aesthetics and tap into the Romanian landscape when reimaging a modern approach to the Dracula-inspired story. Instead, there's the inexplicable location choice of New Orleans, Louisiana, for Renfield to romp through. The film suffers from strong pacing from its get-go, and while it really does try with its fourth-wall breaks, often finds that some jokes just don't land.

Renfield is fairly different than what's expected - mismarketed, really - and it's a challenge for the plot to identify a clear angle. It's not uncommon for Renfield to suffer from inconsistencies throughout. There are glaringly obvious, amateur mistakes in editing, makeup, and storytelling that Universal Pictures should not have to be faulted for. Throughout, R.M. Renfield (Nicholas Hoult)'s hair is seen at different lengths, obvious combat wounds are missing, and there are unusual cuts in the final product that feel like they were left in by mistake. From a technical standpoint, the sloppiness from Universal Pictures is completely disappointing and does little to flatter Renfield. There's so much time dedicated to shifting the focus of the film on its repulsively graphic gore that all other elements are left behind as an afterthought.

The greatest horror in this horror-comedy is the flimsiness of the screenplay and the dire want to be perceived as naturally funny. With Invincible and The Walking Dead's Robert Kirkman on the screenwriting team, it comes as a surprise that Renfield was not as grounded as it should have been, but instead, is too frazzled for its own good. When Renfield does succeed, it's through its most intimate moments between Renfield and Dracula (Nicolas Cage). Their relationship illuminates the reality of standing up to narcissism and reclaiming self-worth in relationships with unequal power dynamics. Hoult's tortured Renfield taps into the more sympathetic side of his character but omits the absolute insanity that made him so intriguing to begin with. Renfield lacking his notably strange aura is a massive misstep when attempting to humanize Dracula's assistant. There are other character traits that were once exclusive to Renfield that are passed onto others deep in the third act that eliminates the quirkiness of them that was there to begin with. A trademark behavior of Renfield's is used as a plot point, and through this choice, strips Renfield of individuality.

Cage's approach to Dracula is as campy and familiar as Johnny Depp's means of becoming Jack Sparrow, though the over-the-top exaggeration of an age-old horror icon is at its best only when working opposite Hoult. Their chemistry is the most memorable aspect of flatly predictable horror-comedy. The potential for being a better film looms over a limp execution of a fun story that deserved so much more. Renfield is the type of cinematic fun that's disposable. It's mindless, it's blood-soaked and it revels in nonsense. While Renfield doesn't suck, it could use more bite. 4/10.

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