Renfield & why the Marvelisation of Cinema is a good thing

@CMOnTheRocks
6 min readApr 17, 2023

Starring — Nicolas Cage, Nicolas Hoult, Awkwafina

Director — Chris McKay

In Cinemas Now

I haven’t written a thing since I wrote about Gotti in November as it figuratively broke me. If you want to understand why, click here.

That’s not to say that I haven’t watched anything. I’ve rewatched Frasier twice. I enjoyed the new series of Jack Ryan. I’ve stuck to a steady diet of rewatching The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent once a month to keep my psyche wholesome. I even watched Street Fighter and found it bearable. And I’ve actually enjoyed a couple of trips to the cinema.

I’ve seen Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, which was absolutely riotous and I will be rewatching a lot when it’s on streaming services for less than £15.99. I also saw the Mario movie which was a movie. And I went to see the absolute visual festival of violence that was John Wick 4. I wrote a long diatribe after it where I was all set to deep dive into the minutiae of the saga, the joy it made me feel and the balletic spectacle of death that played out across 3 hours in front of me on a Wednesday night — but I didn’t because I didn’t want to spoil the film or give away any details about it. For me, it has to be seen to be believed. But after another trip to see Renfield it blew back into the centre of my consciousness from the periphery (where it had been throwing knives for the last month) after witnessing the deranged delights of Renfield.

Renfield drops us into the world of Dracula’s assistant, Robert Montague Renfield as he gives us a potted history of their turbulent relationship leading up to their current entanglements in New Orleans, where Renfield has grown jaded by the cyclical nature of Dracula’s abusive power-drunk antics as they burn location after location with his hedonistic bloodthirst. Hoult is perfectly cast, a bumbling, stuttering Hugh Grant style figure at the centre of the action as he bashfully finds himself coming to terms with his predicament at having to serve the immortal Lord of Darkness at the cost of his own humanity and everyone around him. Pairing up with the absolutely terrific Awkwafina, the pairing bicker and sarcasmically bat back and forth as they move from unlikely heroes to enemies to reluctant partners as the plot batter on with the pace of a freight train powered by nitroglycerin and mountains of cocaine.

The rest of the cast are pleasingly one dimensional. The supporting antagonists serve their purpose, a plot device to give Dracula and Renfield a worthy conflict around which the film orbits like a sun of pure ham. The only one that you could say sticks out is Ben Schwartz, who is told to play his Parks and Rec character with a covering of tattoos and an even bigger ego. He’s palatable, and due to the swift pace he never manages to stick around long enough to truly annoy the viewer.

But what of Cage and his much talked-about Dracula portrayal. Frankly, I’d be serving up my neck to him right now if he asked me. From the moment he appears in the opening montage, he hits an absolutely hellish chord and leads us on a the campest of merry dances up and down the piano keys of entertainment. There’s his own inspirations in there, but you can hear and see notes of his other performances within lines or short monologues — and more to the point he is absolutely hilarious to go with it as he uses every inch of his elongated, pale face to fill the space around him with the very essence of Dracula. There’s one scene in particular in Renfield’s studio apartment where he becomes two parts Christopher Walken, one part Andrew Scott’s Moriarty with just a hint of Jim Carrey in between, while getting increasingly agitated as his speech reaches his Kick-Ass supporting character Big Daddy with some Castor Troy thrown in.

And you know what. Good. Nicolas Cage did the metaphorical Dufresne Shit-Tunnel of roles in the mid 00’s for around a decade and never fucking complained once — and is now churning out more interesting performances than at any other point in his career. And more importantly he is enjoying himself to the max — which is no more than he deserves.

Which brings me to the film itself. This is an absolutely deranged film. Its around 85 minutes in length but manages to absolutely hammer along and not leave you feeling short-changed, plus it has a level of violence in it that had Michael Bay had suggested it twenty years ago, Jerry Bruckheimer would have had him spayed. And it is riotously funny. I genuinely don’t recall laughing as much in a cinema ever — even just at the constant “Fuck you, Kyle!’ that refrains throughout the film.

And this is where the title of this stream of conciousness nonsense comes in. Marvel and DC and Star Wars and all of these films are great in their own unique way as they build universes for people to submerge themselves in and endlessly debate and consider and theorise and constantly grandstand with each other to create spectacle after spectacle of uniquely gigantic proportions as they vie for the biggest and greatest and best of everything in cinema and television. But how many times can you create something bigger and better when your source material is ostensibly the same?

For me, this has conversely had the effect of liberating independent popcorn cinema from needing to compete for size and instead focus on creating a unique spectacle. If Renfield or John Wick 4 were suggested 10 years ago they would have had a limited release and a budget of £4m, eventually finding a cult following on DVD and being big in Japan. Instead I’ve seen fight scenes on french staircases and in New Orleans dive bars which will live with me for as long as I live, along with at least 14 new ways of killing people that I’m pretty sure didnt exist in murder lexicon prior to this year.

My feeling is because we now live in this ‘age-of-the-universe’ cinema, when ideas like these two films come along they have to go absolutely fucking nuts, because they need to stand out from the monontony of ‘Good guy eats bug and becomes Poison Fridge man who battle Ape-Lord for the Rings of Neptune which will flood Caracas and kill all the cows in Dorset’.

When I saw John Wick 4, I walked in and thought “how the hell have they made a 3 hour John Wick film?!” and walked out unable to comprehend what I had seen, as it’s B-Movie Kung-Fu spirit played out across A-Grade locations. It was sensational. And Renfield reinforced my feelings on this that in an age like this, when films like John Wick and Renfield can be made with bonkers budgets, spectacle has never been more entertaining.

Rating — 10/10.

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@CMOnTheRocks

Writing about Championship Manager 2001–02 with no regard for my own personal sanity.