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  • Jeff Beck

Renfield: A Fun, but Misguided Vampire Tale (Blu-ray)


The Film:


At this point, it would be quite the task to add up the multitude of "Dracula" adaptations (or Dracula-related films) over the course of about a century. From Murnau's 1922 classic "Nosferatu" (an illegal adaptation, with changed names) to now, the Count has shined on screens big and small, with various actors taking on the role, including Bela Lugosi, Gary Oldman, Frank Langella, and Jack Palance (just to name a few). However, a character that never seems to get very much attention is the Count's assistant, Renfield, probably because he's a rather minor character in the scheme of things. But what if the story were radically reimagined so that this small character had a much bigger part? Well, then you'd probably end up with something pretty bizarre, like Chris McKay's horror-comedy simply entitled "Renfield."


The film starts off as your standard adaptations typically do, with Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) meeting Count Dracula (Nicolas Cage) in the early 1900s to arrange a real estate deal. Having proved useful, the Count turns Renfield into his "familiar," giving him special powers and immortality. Flash-forward to present day, the pair have had to move to New Orleans after a recent run-in with vampire hunters almost resulted in the Count's death. Renfield has become fed-up with his lot in life of providing victims for his master, but he soldiers on and starts hunting down people who are hurting the members of a self-help group for bad relationships.


While attempting to capture one of these potential victims (a gang member who stole drugs), Renfield is attacked by an assassin hired by Teddy Lobo (Ben Schwartz), a member of a rival crime family. Renfield takes out the assassin, but is unsuccessful in his attempt to get to Teddy. However, after a warning from the Count about needing better victims, Renfield soon runs into him again while on his mission, thrusting him right into the middle of a large criminal case involving a determined cop (Awkwafina), a corrupt police force, and the head of the Lobo family (Shohreh Aghdashloo).


In theory, shifting the narrative to focus on the somewhat forgotten character of Renfield is an interesting proposition. Obviously it would take a pretty big overhaul of the story to bring it about (and to give him a lot more to do), but there's no reason that something like that couldn't work if done well. As far as "Renfield" goes, there are some elements here that work pretty well.

There are several exciting fight/action sequences that are deliciously over-the-top, delivering thrills, laughs, and a ridiculous amount of blood (albeit, in a few instances, blood that was obviously inserted with CGI).


Its other major positive element is the always-dependable zaniness of Nicolas Cage, who takes over every scene he's in with his wild portrayal of the Count (who has a very Lugosi-esque look throughout much of the film). Sure, you could argue that he's hamming it up a bit (or a lot), but this is the kind of turn people love to see Cage give, and that's not to mention how well his eccentric performance fits in with the over-the-top nature of the film. Nicholas Hoult may get the vast majority of the screentime in the titular role (with which he leaves little impact), but Cage is the one that most will be remembering much more from this outing.


Unfortunately, when it comes to the story itself, "Renfield" ends up being rather ho-hum. As mentioned, a story focusing on the character could work, but the story here (penned by Ryan Ridley) just comes off as a bit misguided. Throwing Renfield into a battle with a crime family may lay the foundation for fights & blood galore, but it doesn't make for a particularly interesting or engaging tale, causing the film to be slightly plodding and mostly forgettable.


That said, there is a fair amount of fun to be had here with the aforementioned action and Cage's usual entertaining presence. In the end, "Renfield" ends up feeling like an intriguing concept in search of a better narrative. The whole "crime family" thing was not the best approach, but surely there is one out there that could result in something both thrilling and engaging. With the film going belly-up at the box office, it's unlikely anyone will take a stab at this concept again anytime soon, but perhaps someone way down the line could revisit it and give it just what it needs to be more successful on the next go.


Video/Audio:


"Renfield" comes to Blu-ray in a 2.39:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of outstanding quality. This can be a rather dark film at times, but the picture always remains sharp throughout its 90-minute runtime. Likewise, the 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is fantastic, giving you all of the dialogue, sound effects, and music in excellent quality. Overall, Universal has done a great job in both departments for the film's home release.


Special Features:


Feature Commentary with Producer Samantha Nisenboim, Screenwriter Ryan Ridley, and Crew

Deleted and Extended Scenes (18 Minutes)

Alternate Takes (3 Minutes)

Dracula UnCaged (5 Minutes)

Monsters & Men: Behind the Scenes of Renfield (13 Minutes)

Stages of Rejuvenation (6 Minutes)

Flesh & Blood (5 Minutes)

Fighting Dirty (6 Minutes)

The Making of a Deleted Scene: Renfield’s Dance! (4 Minutes)


The Blu-ray comes with a pretty decent collection of extras, including an informative commentary track with the filmmakers, several intriguing behind-the-scenes featurettes, and a very hefty portion of deleted material (in case you thought the 90-minute runtime was too short). Definitely more than enough bonus goodies to sink your teeth into.


Conclusion:


"Renfield" boasts some exciting & thrilling action sequences and a delightfully over-the-top performance from the usually-dependable Nicolas Cage, but the story itself ends up leaving something to be desired, feeling like an intriguing concept in search of a better narrative, ultimately turning a semi-fun flick into something mostly forgettable.


Score: 3/5


Available on Blu-ray starting tomorrow.


Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.



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