The Seasoned Ticket #219

Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.

Well, it peaks early: Renfield’s narration includes a flashback to his initial meeting with Count Dracula, and what we see are scenes from Tod Browning’s 1931 Dracula (kudos to maintaining the proper aspect ratio), with the characters digitally altered to be inhabited by this film’s actors, Nicholas Hoult and Nicolas Cage. A nice touch, and also an indication of Renfield‘s fundamental tone, which is comedic.

This is not spoofery, mind you, as least once we get past Cage saying, “I never drink—wine.” Renfield quickly ditches the references to past cinematic vampirism in favor of rat-a-tat sitcom-style humor, in which poor enslaved Renfield tries to break out of his co-dependent relationship with his master. Self-help books, a spiffy New Orleans bachelor apartment, and the tentative friendship of an attitude-driven cop (Awkwafina) are part of Renfield’s humanizing process.

He still eats bugs. But very much to the point of this movie, Renfield’s insectivore diet goes well beyond “The blood is the life,” and actually instills superpowers, a tipoff that the movie’s true spirit is not Mel Brooksian parody but John Wick-style action. (I imagine that every Hollywood pitch right now is answered with the request to Wick it up a little.) Renfield (and Dracula himself, naturally) has the power to yank arms and legs out of sockets and heave multiple bodies against walls.

The jokes are funny for the first 15 minutes, and Cage has his moments of torturing dialogue into hilarious flourishes. (Turns out “husk” is a great Nic Cage word.) But once the premise is established, and you’ve seen the first iteration of gut-spilling, vein-erupting gore, there is nothing for Renfield to do but repeat itself.

The players are fine, and a tip of the hat to Nicholas Hoult for resurrecting Dwight Frye’s demented chuckle. I could give the stale gags and the soulless action a pass, if it weren’t for the film’s addition of character background—like giving the cop a dead father and a disgruntled sister, as though these little emotional touches are supposed to matter in the same universe as the har-har ultraviolence and Cage’s expressionism. Make Renfield nasty if you have to, give it a cruel satirical edge—but please, don’t try to make us care.


April 14, 2023

Robert Horton is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.

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