Director: Chris McKay
Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Nicolas Cage, Awkwafina, Ben Schwartz, Adrian Martinez
Runtime: 1 hr 33 mins
Rating: M18 (Violence and Gore)
Released By: UIP
Opening Day: 13 April 2023
Synopsis: Evil doesn’t span eternity without a little help. In this modern monster tale of Dracula’s loyal servant, Nicholas Hoult (Mad Max: Fury Road, X-Men franchise) stars as Renfield, the tortured aide to history’s most narcissistic boss, Dracula (Oscar® winner Nicolas Cage). Renfield is forced to procure his master’s prey and do his every bidding, no matter how debased. But now, after centuries of servitude, Renfield is ready to see if there’s a life outside the shadow of The Prince of Darkness. If only he can figure out how to end his codependency.
The theatrical poster is quite self-explanatory of the titular character’s predicament in leaving the situation, with the Dracula (Nicolas Cage) looming over the pitiable familiar (Nicholas Hoult) with hands that are clearly indicative of the power dynamics. This may feel like a sequel to 1988's Vampire's Kiss that helped establish Cage's idiosyncratic performance calibre, but Renfield offers beyond just a fang-baring Dracula that scatters into a cauldron of bats and other delusions of vampirism that we’ve had over the years.
Before launching into the very brief flashback of how the duo met, Renfield who's a shrinking violet stuck with a toxic narcissistic boss, decides to show up at a support group facilitated by the warm and amicable Mark (Brandon Scott Jones), only to discover that his problem is way more complicated compared to the other toxic relationship issues that are pretty much, erm, human. Being a victim of this (literally) draining work arrangement, the meek but mighty Renfield wants out after being tired of serving his egomaniacal Lord for decades. But will he, the co-dependent one, be able to do it? Or will the Prince of Darkness scout for another pathetic familiar who shall serve him through eternity? Instinctively, the Count gate-crashes the support group meeting and that's when things take a comically serious turn as the Dracula satire goes big on slapstick comedy sequences.
Renfield’s character was first introduced in Bram Stoker's Dracula that was based on the 1897 novel. The black-and-white preamble that could have gone slightly longer definitely lends a kick, especially with Cage and Hoult digitally inserted in the 1931 Tod Browning classic, Dracula, replacing Bela Lugosi and the magnificent Dwight Frye, as he ruminates on how he got acquainted to his thirsty, power-tripping boss.
The film's overarching joke where the Dracula is an abusive narcissist who loves gaslighting his familiar, is (sadly) eclipsed by several other elements. Surprisingly, the film features fight scenes that has timid Renfield transform into a kamikaze with dramatic blood gushes, torn limbs flicked around as weapons and heads punched out in a single blow - all fuelled by snacking on insects and creepy crawlies.
Looks like the director and filmmakers knew very well not to package the horror comedy as just another oddball vampire flick and instead turn it into an actioner that might do decently well at the box-office. And not forgetting the underworld crime family plot furtively weaved into this genre mash-up.
Amidst all the gore and violence that is presented through blood-soaked fight scenes, Renfield has a love interest (Awkwafina) whom he clearly places on a pedestal. But amusingly, the dark comedy goes threadbare on romantic scenes, where they would barely even hold hands. And it's at this juncture that the horror comedy takes a hairpin swerve to embody a generic crime drama persona with the entry of the mother-son mafia duo played by the eerily elegant Shohreh Aghdashloo and Ben Schwartz who plays the tatted up mobster that no one is actually fearful of.
It's somewhat baffling how the 33-year-old English actor who plays the titular role in this knee-slapper can remain oblivious to the fact that he looks nothing less than a heartthrob, but is still able to seamlessly execute a comedy role. The divinely devilish-looking Hoult has been a zombie, a mutant, a post-apocalyptic war boy, a psycho, a food connoisseur and many more. The Golden Globe Award nominee’s versatility comes as no surprise and it certainly is delighting to know that the former child star reunites with his onscreen dad almost two decades later (Weather Man)! Hoult will also be part of an upcoming American Gothic horror number, Nosferatu, slated to be released in 2024 with Bill Skarsgard as the titular vampire.
Cage makes an impressive comeback as the Dracula, sans any inhibitions when it comes to his shadowy demeanour with immaculately hilarious mannerisms that are equally menacing whenever his human familiar ‘disses’ him. And it's no wonder that Cage who has garnered a cult following over the decades since Face/Off and Ghost Rider with his eccentric film persona divulged in an interview that he had waited for ages to take on such roles.
Every time the Dracula swoops in with his top hat, his dope-looking coat along with chunky gemstone rings that are likely to house entities from lower realms and speaking in a heavy archaic drawl paired with a shouty charisma, the plot gets an instant dose of high. The colour tones, costumes, aesthetics and settings offer a supreme vampiric vibe. Cage as Dracula is deliciously awful to miss in the vampire-meets-action caper, as he has indisputably sunk his teeth into this role that seems to be created just for him.
Atop the dialogues that carry side-splitting innuendos and puns, expect loads of terms that are often thrown around in therapy sessions, such as co-dependency, narcissism, self-love and energy just to name a few. Although there are no hints of a sequel, it would be a treat for ardent Dracula movie fans if they have one with reprised roles of the Dracula and most other cast members.
Produced by the Skybound Entertainment partners, Robert Kirkman and David Alpert (The Walking Dead, Invincible) and directed by the man behind The Tomorrow War, Chris McKay, this thoroughly enjoyable and incredibly hysterical horror dramedy serves as a pedestal for Cage’s seasoned flamboyance and Hoult's ambidexterity and is certainly a certified addition to the list of Dracula classics over the decades.
(Catch this campy yet promising rib-tickler that will have you wheezing and inspire you to choose yourself, no matter how toxic your overbearing master or, oops, boss is!)
Review by Asha Gizelle Mariadas