It feels like Universal may have finally figured out their Dark Universe, the ambitious plan for a series of monster films based on classic IP in their catalogue. It began with a hilariously awkward composited photoshoot of A-listers (Depp, Cruise, Crowe among them) but the failure of 2017’s The Mummy made the studio realise it wasn’t talent alone that was going to draw audiences – they would need clever ideas.
The Invisible Man and Renfield, both of which could not be further apart in tone, together represent how the smart approach to rebooting their old stories is to envision them in a contemporary social context. Both happen to centre on toxic relationships, using literal monsters as an allegory for real-world ones. The former takes the titular character to depict a scary saga of domestic abuse. The latter is a humorous reimagining of Dracula’s assistant Renfield suffering under the blood-sucking whims of his capitalistic boss.
We open with Robert Montagu Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) entering a support group now that he’s at the breaking point of his indentured service to the infamous Transylvanian vampire (Nicolas Cage). The support group offers him all the mantras, action steps and positive reinforcements that will shape his arc but complementing his growth is an encounter with Officer Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina), who he falls in love with at first slice, when they fortuitously dispatch a bunch of criminals together.
There’s a B-plot following Quincy’s tracking of an underground drug-trafficking mob, who are led by appealing co-stars Ben Schwartz and Shoreh Aghdashloo, which often distracts from what we came to see – Renfield rebelling against Dracula – but at the very least is a provision for our characters to seek their teeth into, literally. After making The Lego Batman Movie and The Tomorrow War, Chris McKay knows his way around an action sequence (one could say it’s in his blood). Here, he engineers some spectacularly over-the-top setpieces, where limbs are liberally dismembered and repurposed as every type of weapon from a crowbar to a spear. Renfield’s juicy blend of stylish, gory action and wicked humour is the sort of thrill audiences crave from time to time, with previous successes including Kick-Ass and Kingsman. It’s a fun cinematic experience, ideally with a bloody mary in hand.
Renfield is released nationwide on 14th April 2023.
Watch the trailer for Renfield here: