When one desires to become an author, they are often given the advice to read as many other books as possible. The idea is that one’s mental bank of ideas and inspiration will be filled once you familiarize yourself with your artistic medium of choice. It also serves as a helping hand in branding your individual taste; what you like and dislike, what kinds of stories or writers you gravitate towards. A similar advice is often given to aspiring filmmakers and screenwriters, albeit in their case, they are to see films to find other filmmakers or genres they appreciate the best. But it is not simply enough to watch truly great films or old classics. It is just as crucial to once in a while watch a truly bad and awful film, a film in which every creative decision comes across as baffling, hastily thrown together or downright lazy. By watching a bad film with analytical eyes you start to learn what not to do as a filmmaker. This is the experience me and my friend had and subsequent discussion we shared upon seeing the new Nicolas Cage film Renfield.
The film features the aforementioned Nicolas Cage as the iconic Count Dracula and Nicholas Hoult as his assistant R.M. Renfield. Renfield functions in some ways as a follow-up to the classic Dracula (1931) featuring Bela Lugosi (only here they have Forrest Gump-ed Cage and Hoult in place of Lugosi and Dwight Frye respectively). After more than a century of trotting the globe the pair have found themselves in present day New Orleans, and Renfield is finally starting to have qualms about his choice of lifestyle as Dracula’s always obedient servant who provides him with fresh victims. Throughout this the two are connected to Awkwafina playing a young cop named Rebecca Quincy who tries to bring down a crime family whilst trying to live up to the memory of her father Morris Quincy (get the reference?)
Judging by my introduction, I presume most readers will have deduced at this point that I am no fan of this film’s premise, in fact quite the opposite. I thoroughly disliked Renfield because, throughout its entire ninety minute runtime, I felt as though the filmmakers had taken the laziest creative route possible with a setup as ingenious as a horror comedy focusing on the relationship between Dracula and Renfield. But unfortunately, the writer Robert Kirkman has for some inexplicable reason focused sorely on Renfield, leaving Cage’s Dracula out of the film for a significant majority of the plot, and his presence is greatly missed. Instead, we are subjected to an incredibly dull and generic crime thriller-story which felt like something taken from an entirely different (and entirely boring) movie. Because once the movie focuses on Dracula and Renfield it comes to life and is fun, but every minute spent on Awkwafina’s character is dull and routine at best, and when Ben Schwartz’ mobster character appears it is sleep-inducing at worst.
What they should have done, in my humble opinion, would be to go more in the direction of horror comedies such as Evil Dead II (1987), An American Werewolf in London (1981) or even Young Frankenstein (1974) and focus on properly developing Dracula and Renfield as characters whilst emphasizing the comedy and violence, another element sorely lacking from Renfield. Because neither Dracula nor Renfield are properly developed as characters and pretty much stay the same by the end of the film, with no change or growth throughout. The few occasions violence is depicted it is all too obvious it is CGI blood that only looks fake and distracts one from the reality of the film. Renfield is truly a film that would benefit from practical special and makeup effects and more gothic sets, as I think it would have brought forth a love and dedication for the classic horror films of old that clearly Cage and Hoult aspire to in their performances.
When Renfield was over, both myself and my friend talked about it the entire way home and we were both disappointed by the film as we saw great potential in a film that dealt with Dracula and Renfield, especially in the hands of actors of Cage’s and Hoult’s caliber. Both of them are very good in their respective parts, but ultimately are let down by an extremely dull and routine script, seen through to completion by lackluster direction. And letting those two down, along with the audience, might be the biggest crime of the film.