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Renfield: what a waste

UsagiTenshiApr 19, 2023, 9:24:42 PM

Ok, I thought about it and came to the conclusion this might be a good idea. So if you are prepared for a weird deep-dive into Renfield, welcome. My tl;dr take is this: Renfield had the potential to actually be good, but needed at least one more editing pass to tighten its focus. That's a shame, because I'd love to see this Nicholas Cage Dracula again.

To start, I wish to list the things that worked really well and deserve praise.


To begin, Nicholas Cage was perfect in this film, though not for reasons that people might have expected. From the trailers, and the movie being billed ostensibly as a horror-comedy, I was expecting a glorious, scenery-devouring performance the likes of which only Nicholas Cage can deliver. I was actually pleasantly surprised to find that Cage was not only doing a real performance, but also I am willing to go on record and say this is the most book-accurate Dracula ever put to screen. Cage conveys a sense of demonic aura, as well as the sort of off-putting, alienness that book Dracula oozed in most interactions (book Dracula is an off-putting creature, not an alluring one). Moreover, I think Cage also brought a curious and I believe never before seen on screen aspect of the book Dracula’s character to light: his childishness. Van Helsing describes the vampire count as basically a demonic deviant with the mind of a child. Book Dracula is prone to emotional outbursts, and displays a sharply honed animal cunning, but seems to possess no capacity for grandscale plotting or scheming (small, concise planning and plotting, yes), unlike later depictions on the big screen. His threat is largely due to the fact that he is a walking contagion, apex predator, and possesses supernatural powers unknown to the “modern” world, allowing him free rein to infect an entire nation undetected. The script of Renfield also seems to allude to this, however shallowly, in that this particular Dracula constantly self-indulges with little planning ahead, and lands on the idea of world-domination in the exact same way a malicious six-year-old might when he realizes he’s kind of tired of getting attacked periodically and if he ruled the world, then that would stop happening. It LITERALLY has not occurred to him until recently in the movie, and I appreciate this deviation from the cinema norm. I will say this is my favorite portrayal of the character on screen to date. Also, I think I spotted a small nod to his performance in Vampire's Kiss, but blink and you'll miss it.

Here's How To Watch 'Renfield' Online Free: Is Renfield (2023) Streaming On  Netflix Or HBO Max

Secondly, the opening in which Renfield explains his backstory in a flashback is brilliant and wonderfully done. The sequence is a delightful homage to Tod Browning’s 1930s Dracula starring Bela Lugosi, where Cage and Hoult reenact scenes from the film. Hoult also impressed me by how WELL he was able to recreate Dwight Frye’s maniacal giggling when discovered upon the Demeter, and solidly convinced me he would do brilliantly in this current role. (If you have never seen that scene, here it is: https://youtu.be/OYSSB6QBBFU?t=139).

Nicolas Cage Accidentally Drank His Own Blood as Dracula in 'Renfield'

Thirdly, Nicholas Hoult deserves praise, though I will say I have never seen one of his performances that was not spot on. I have liked him in everything I have seen him in, and he does well with what he is given in this film (the eagle-eyed reader may notice something about what I just said there). And despite the opening, Hoult does not recreate Frye’s performance through the rest of the film, though the chracter of Renfiled in this film is not WRITTEN to be that performance. Renfield here is largely a different character.


Fourthly, this film is minimally woke, though this hardly counts as praise. There are definitely whispers of wokeness, and I wonder if this script might not be a few years old because this smacks more of a bygone era when the underlying ideology was usually better masked. Some of the woke parts are organically woven into the story and characters and so feel less jarring, and in some cases there is enough of a comedic tone as to mitigate what is there. Take that as you will, I do not precisely mean it as praise.


Lastly, as far as modern movies go, this is among the best, but again, that is not really praise. Here, I will transition to the bad, and say that had this movie come out in, say, the 90s, it would have been ignored for its crushing mediocrity and overall failure to solidly nail any one of its constituent narrative pieces. I believe that current ratings reflect that this film will end up in the memory-hole bin of history, where--alas for Cage’s performance--it belongs.

On to the actual critique:


It has been a bit difficult for me to decide how to begin, as the major failings of this film are twofold and it is hard to determine which ought to spoken about first. I will say that the two main failings are, unsurprisingly: direction and the script.


I will begin by saying I actually LIKE the direction, however it is at odds I think with what the script intended. The direction of the film is as a dark horror comedy complete with ridiculous, over the top and incredibly fake-looking explosions of cg blood. [SPOILER: to give an idea, a character is actually kicked so hard in the stomach that his bones shatter and his liquefied organs come out...both ends, to put it politely. It’s that sort of film]. HOWEVER, where this direction fails is in the resolution and the conceit of the script that there is a heartfelt psychological aspect to Renfield’s inner conflict, and this does NOT work. The film makes use of bathos as a tool for humor, and in a dark comedy, that is perfectly acceptable. Bathos, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, is “(especially in a work of literature) an effect of anticlimax created by an unintentional lapse in mood from the sublime to the trivial or ridiculous.” Use of jokes to punctuate what otherwise is a serious scene, is a form of “pulling the rug out” from under story beats. It conveys to the audience that there is nothing particularly serious going on. Again, in a comedy, this is wonderful. However, this technique does NOT play well with attempts at sincerity. There is a great analysis of The Last Jedi that explores the bathos aspect of that film in particular: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CuuDTnMPMgc.

Horror-comedy is an incredibly difficult genre to pull off, as horror and comedy are doing literally opposite jobs. Horror requires on the building of tension, and comedy relies on the constant release of tension. This is a balancing act, and one which I do spend time thinking about, since my book series is an example of a horror-comedy itself (at the moment, more comedy than horror). To make dissonant tones work, you largely have to be very judicious not to let the two touch each other unless the jarring juxtaposition of the two actually serves to emphasize ONE of the two of them. However, to return to Renfield specifically, and to bathos in particular, bathos constantly tells the audience to not take things seriously, and the more it is used, the MORE audiences will take that message away. And this ESPECIALLY does not work when most of the scenes that center around the central theme of the film—that there is a real-life, psychological relationship which Renfield must overcome, and so his [SPOILER self-affirmation at the end to free himself by use of what he has learned at therapy can ONLY work if the film does not constantly make jokes out of his therapy sessions.] To continue with the [SPOILER Dracula’s death is actually played for laughs.] I repeat: the defeat of the final boss, so to speak, of the film, is played as a JOKE. It is IMPOSSIBLE to have a heartfelt “the friends we made along the way” sort of moral meant in total sincerity when the rest of the film constantly pokes fun at virtually EVERYTHING. I feel this resulted because the director had a desire for horror-comedy, but the script itself was less committed to that. A better example of well-defined themes and character arcs about the self, as well as a horror-comedy can be seen in Shaun of the Dead.

Shaun of the Dead (2004) - IMDb

Which brings me to the script itself. This, by far, is the REAL problem. Overall, the story is perfectly serviceable, but there are key and critical elements that absolutely do not work, and worse, there are amateurish writing mistakes. This is all a shame, as I think with at least one more final edit, this could have actually been a REALLY fun movie, a la all the best of the action comedies of the 90s, or even a fairly well-done psychological study. However, the script lacks focus both on character and ESPECIALLY on properly building and executing a theme.


To begin: the themes. There are theoretically two, since the script lacks focus. There is a definite attempt at “self-affirmation” and “self-confidence” and “moving on” which is presented sincerely, though actually quite badly. The first major problem with this is that the movie INSISTS that Renfield and Dracula are in a “co-dependent relationship” which it repeats ad nauseum. The reason it REPEATS it, is because this is not demonstrated in the film in any tangible way. Dracula and Renfield actually have very little screen time together, which is a crying shame not just because we miss out on more of Cage as Dracula, but because there is no way to see the purported codependency. For a look at what a REAL co-dependent relationship looks like, I direct you here: https://www.fortbehavioral.com/addiction-recovery-blog/9-warning-signs-of-a-codependent-relationship/#:~:text=Published%3A%20May%2025%2C%202021,people%20with%20substance%20use%20issues. What is immediately apparent to viewers is that Dracula does NOT need Renfield. In fact, once Dracula fails getting Renfield back after one attempt, he just goes and grabs another minion. Further undermining any understanding of this relationship is Cage’s performance. Cage brings a sense of transcendent evil, of the demonic and supernatural, and it is therefore impossible to say to what extent Renfield was seduced to serve him because of some hypnotic suggestion and what the film claims is the actual reason: he was just greedy and ambitious and Dracula was rich (I will expand on this later). 

For his part, Renfield’s express desire as stated and as demonstrated, is that he’s tired of living like this but can’t leave because he’s afraid Dracula will kill him. That is not co-dependency, that’s a hostage situation. Renfield has no deep, burning desire to be of service and to help Dracula per se, he's stuck doing it by external circumstance. There are definitely scenes where the film TRIES to show that Renfield lacks self-confidence, but this character trait only presents itself when Dracula is around, and to return to direction, there is certainly a hint that there is more to the fact that Renfield folds like a house of cards than simply lack of confidence and self-esteem. For the rest of Renfield’s interactions, he is quippy, kind, able to crack jokes, and is pretty open about his situation to Rebecca, none of which portrays a broken, emotionally manipulated co-dependent. The closest we ever see is what is presented in the trailer, though in the trailer, critically, he says “I need to get out of a TOXIC relationship” which is certainly where he is. Considering that the film tries on the one hand to poke fun at people seeking support to get out of their codependent relationships and ALSO convey a sense of relief that Renfield successfully uses the sort of empty platitudes presented in his group self-therapy sessions to [SPOILER help defeat Dracula.] (This is especially egregious when the film makes a gag out of Renfield’s use of a self-help book as a Bible against Dracula in Act 2 which of course fails miserably, as one would expect it to against a demon piloting a corpse, only for self-affirmation to be his rallying cry at the end to free himself from Dracula before [SPOILER comedically bludgeoning Dracula into bits with assorted tools]).

I think this incongruity may be due in part to Cage’s performance. As written, I could see an actor portraying Dracula as a psychological manipulator and narcissist more than a transcendent evil, but at this point, it is the director’s job to figure out how to work all of that into a coherent film. Johnny Depp made Jack Sparrow into more than just a vaudeville-esque comedy-relief character, after all. Guillermo del Toro quite famously rewrites his scripts to better match his actors’ performances in order to strengthen the entire work. It falls to the creative team to decide whether they want to keep Cage’s performance as-is (which is the correct choice) and therefore rewrite the script to match, or to tell him to give a different performance which matches a different vision instead.


This brings me to another, extremely irritating flaw of the script: it LOVES its exposition, and loves to tell, not show. There is a particularly egregious example following the introduction of Rebecca Quincy, the deuteragonist of the film. She is the least-well realized character, but I will return to characterization later. After Rebecca (I refuse to call her Quincy, not simply because the film forgets her surname, but because this attempt to reference the Texan from Stoker’s novel doesn’t work because Rebecca IS NOT Quincy in any way) arrests Teddy Lobo (son of one of the local crime bosses) and rants about his getting away from justice, the police chief has a long discussion with her about her dead father, and how he was killed by the mob, and the chief will take care of her, etc. The exposition is painful, and made ALL THE MORE PAINFUL because the film has the good sense to have the camera follow Rebecca out of the room and linger on the photo of her obviously dead father hanging on the wall, which would have been all anyone really needed to get an idea what her motivation was. The scene which Rebecca walks into IMMEDIATELY AFTERWWARDS is one with her sister, who is an FBI agent who more or less says “Hey, OUR DAD WAS MURDERED BY THE MOB, AND YOU AND I BOTH WANT JUSTICE.” It is like the edited Star Wars A New Hope scene in which Han Solo encounters Jabba right after shooting Greedo. This script needed an editor. 

There are more instances of “tell, don’t show” in this film, especially when it comes to explaining backstory and character motivation, the wonderful opening scene recreating Tod Browning’s film excluded. When Renfield finally explains why he came to work for Dracula, we end up with another instance of this, but more critically, the script undermines its own conceit. Renfield confesses to Rebecca that the reason he was manipulated by Dracula is because he was a young and ambitious real estate agent who made an excuse of trying to make money for his wife and daughter, but ultimately wanted it for himself. I might counter that it is not exactly outside the norm for any young, aspiring real estate agent to want to close on the deal of his entire career, and so this is not indicative of a character flaw per se. Moreover, this is meant to serve as evidence of how he and Dracula became codependent, which is baffling, because Dracula offers him no further money so far as we are shown (or know of based on outside media like the book and 1930s movie), and Renfield is perfectly content to leave Dracula and live in a quaint little apartment. He never complains about a lack of money for himself personally, outside of going "yeah, we're out of it," and never pursues money at any point in the film. This given character flaw becomes even MORE confused when, in the group therapy session which directly leads Renfield to leave Dracula he repeats an affirmation that HE (Renfield) will grow to full power, instead of Dracula. He actually shouts this out loud more than once. If ambition was his flaw, one would expect that this affirmation would play into it, not free him from its hold over him.

Pictured: the face of greed and ambition, apparently.

Renfield' Trailer Breakdown: Is Nicolas Cage The Dracula We Never Knew? |  Film Fugitives

This is as good a time as any to move on to characterization: another failing of this film. Besides Renfield, most characters in this film are underdeveloped, though in the case of Teddy Lobo and his mother, this is fine as they are basically one-note villains.


Dracula is difficult to read because he spends very little time on screen, and because it is unclear what the film wants us to make of him. The script more or less INSISTS that he is in a codependent relationship with Renfield. However, so far as I can tell, he is only in the most utilitarian sense: that he needs someone to help him occasionally with sunlight or getting him food if he’s too weak to get it himself. Bafflingly, the film tries to imply that Dracula might ACTUALLY have specific attachment to Renfiled in particular in the two scenes where he tries to manipulate Renfield, undercutting him and filling him with guilt, but the moment this doesn’t work, he simply leaves to get other minions. However, he DOES try to exact revenge on Renfield specifically, though whether this is because he had SOME sort of attachment to Renfield emotionally (in a human sense) or simply because he is just demonically malicious is unclear. Dracula can shed human tears (instead of weeping blood, which is A decision, for sure. A bad one) if the situation calls for it, but these are clearly utterly fake, making it difficult to decipher what he actually FEELS at any time besides unwholesome, sadistic, malice. Moreover, the shedding of human tears to manipulate Renfield implies they must have positive times together, which we are NEVER shown, and Renfield doesn't expand on. So far as we can see, there is a master and unwilling slave relationship, nothing more. If the tears work, the implication is that RENFIELD has some reason to WANT to maintain a relationship with Dracula, though again I ask "why?" Renfield goes so far to say--of the tears--that "maybe he means it this time." If, by implication, Dracula means that he really likes Renfield and cares about him, and that they are partners, this undermines Renfield's stated motives to escape, and also his stated reasons for falling to begin with, but more on this at the end.


This brings us to Renfield, who is a bit of a mess. And what a shame, as he could have been a really interesting character. His central motive remains that he wishes to get away from Dracula, but the WHY is difficult for the film to articulate, especially given the baffling “ambition and greed” as initial motives. When we first meet him, Renfield’s explanation of the situation betrays that he is simply TIRED of being a minion of Dracula and constantly running, though he does deliver a baffling line about how Dracula’s fake tears might be sincere this time, implying that Dracula, on occasion, is nice to him. The script, as ever, never shows a single instance of this, so it remains another “tell, don’t show” issue. Renfield’s inner conflict at the beginning is that he is tired of the job, but can’t quit because, as the film shows us, he worries Dracula will kill him. In fact, when he tries to suggest a change in plans to Dracula, his vampire master casually disembowels him in disgust (again making us question the film's attempt to imply any sort of "codependency" or "positive" aspect to this relationship). Renfield doesn’t seem to be particularly conflicted about killing people that he thinks ought to die (people he’s decided are bad people), and it is unclear if this is because he just doesn’t care about them or he’s become jaded to murder because he’s been doing it for more than a century. The fact that he’s basically a serial killer for Dracula is practically played as a joke by Rebecca later in the film (more on that in my section on fixes). 

For the self-affirmation pep-talk he delivers at the end to work narratively, it has to be that he is staying with Dracula SOLELY because of his lack of self-esteem, which he has recovered somehow (though I suppose through group therapy. Let that sink in). However, as stated above, Hoult’s performance does not precisely show a consistently broken man. Renfield has no problem approaching Rebecca on their first meeting and praising her up and down, tracking her down later to help her, getting an apartment, new wardrobe, etc. the moment he gets the slightest push to stand up for himself. He does not hesitate to join forces with Rebecca to take down Dracula and the mob, either. There is no question in his mind that he has to stop the monster who has been controlling him for the better part of a century and has theoretically manipulated him through emotional and psychological abuse or through literal powers to murder potentially hundreds or more people. He does not ruminate on any of this, the only guilt he feels is that he abandoned his wife and daughter more than a century ago. The script TELLS us one thing, but it SHOWS us something else. More on this in my “fixes.”

Rebecca is underdeveloped, but no surprise there. Unlike most woke female characters, she is a profoundly flawed character, which is partly played for laughs. The only reason I say that she is still woke is that the FILM does not seem to be aware that she has flaws, as her arc is basically flat, and the film does not call her out for her abrasiveness except once, in a “tell, don’t show” way when she claims she insulted her sister once at a party. She remains single-minded (monomaniac, actually) and rigidly upright, with neither trait being explored either as a foil for Renfield, or to expose her “spine” and have her overcome either of her two major shortcomings (abrasiveness or monomania with regards to the mob, which oddly enough is not a desire for revenge per se for the murder of her father). All that is really needed to fix Rebecca is simply to have one of her flaws be explored and either overcome in a heroic arc, or fallen to in a villainous arc to make her work.


The broken climax. This section will be the most full of SPOILERS so please skip ahead if you don’t want to know more about the ending of this movie or about Bunraku (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1181795/), the trailer for which I shared here: https://www.minds.com/newsfeed/1495302921225506820). The final fight between Renfield and Rebecca and Dracula and the mob was, to put it bluntly, a bit of a mess.

Bunraku (2010) - IMDb

Before I explain why, let me talk a bit about Bunraku. In the film, an unnamed gunslinger with no gun (Josh Hartnett) comes to a town suffering under the tyranny of a vicious murderer and his gang of killers. Hartnett has come to settle some sort of personal vendetta against the top killer, played by Ron Perlman. Gackt plays a samurai who does not want to use his sword, who has come to this town to meet with his uncle and cousin, who run a Japanese restaurant. It turns out that Ron Perlman’s favorite restaurant is the one run by Gackt’s uncle, and Ron Perlman’s right hand man, a devious killer with ambitions to run the town himself, starts harassing the restaurant. This brings Gackt into conflict with the Ron Perlman’s right-hand man primarily, and Ron Perlman himself secondarily, but most obviously aligns him with Josh Hartnett’s goal of taking down the killers in the town. When they finally get to the climax, Gackt goes to kill the right hand man, who has kidnapped his cousin and intends to rape her, while Josh Hartnett goes off to kill Ron Perlman. Gackt struggles but manages to overcome the right hand man, while on the other hand Josh Hartnett is nearly killed almost immediately in his fight with his antagonist and is barely alive. What is clear from this film, where there are two protagonists, with Hartnett being the primary protagonist and Gackt the deuteragonist, is that neither ONE of them would ever have been able to take down the main villain, but together they could. Moreover, it is clear either of them could probably have taken down all the big bad’s minions, especially in one-on-one fights, of which the film provides many examples. It is only when Gackt comes to check on Hartnett that Hartnett is able to defeat the big bad. Though Gackt’s contribution to the fight is minimal, it is necessary in a story with TWO PROTAGONISTS DRAWN TOGETHER IN THIS WAY to have both contribute to the finale in a way that works on a personal and emotional level, while not undermining the main protagonist TOO much.


You may be wondering why I spent some time talking about Bunraku. Let me first explain the major plot points of Renfield:

Renfield opens with Renfield wanting to get away from Dracula, who is a bad guy. Rebecca wants to take down the mob because they murdered her father. Renfield bumps into Rebecca, and when he sees her bravely facing down Teddy Lobo who is going to shoot her dead, Renfield is inspired to stand up to Dracula. He helps Rebecca survive her encounter, then leaves Dracula. Dracula joins forces with the mob because he lost Renfield, and so the enemies for the two protagonists are now Dracula at the head of the mob, with Teddy Lobo as his new right hand man. This means that the deuteragonist is now completely aligned with the main protagonist in going to fight the big bad, Dracula, in order to defeat the secondary antagonist, Teddy Lobo. So far, so good. However, Rebecca spends all of a few seconds fighting Lobo before running off to find her sister, who has been kidnapped by the mob, only to then have an extended scene with Dracula. In the meanwhile, RENFIELD has to kill Teddy Lobo, though the two have little to do with each other on any personal level. Then, Renfield goes to try to kill Dracula. It turns out Rebecca was never going to give in to him, fails to kill him, then Dracula kills or critically wounds Renfield, Rebecca revives him with Dracula’s blood, Renfield pointlessly punches Dracula until they manage to trap him, then shoot him like a fish in a barrel.

Between the two stories, it is surely clear which one is better, but now it is time to move onto my fixes.


Let’s start with the finale, and how with a few small changes, this climax could have REALLY worked.

Reel Review: Renfield (2023) - Morbidly Beautiful
Renfield has an established connection with Dracula, while Rebecca has an established connection with Teddy Lobo specifically and the mob generally (in the way that Josh Hartnett had a connection to Ron Perlman, while Gackt had a connection with Killer No. 2 primarily, and only Ron Perlman secondarily). Rebecca’s explicit motivation is to bring the mob to justice because they murdered her father, and earlier in the film, Teddy Lobo presented himself as the “face” of the mob to her specifically. She arrested him, and he later tracked her down to murder her and mock her father’s death. That is two confrontations, and in good storytelling, one would assume there would be a final confrontation with him, in which this back and forth, her on top, then him, would culminate in a final defeat of SOMEONE. Personal stakes are always more powerful than vague ones. Small, comprehensible stakes, and personal connection are key to powerful storytelling. That’s the reason the finale of Captain America Civil War hits harder than any superhero sky laser extravaganza. Internal conflict manifested as external conflict also hits harder than purely external conflict, hence why the finale of the Dark Knight, which has two small ferries being the manifestation of Gotham’s—and by extension ALL of humanity’s soul—on trial hits much harder than The Dark Knight Rises’ random nuke which will just wipe everyone out no matter what.


The problem with the existing finale isn’t just this surface-level mistake, of course. It also stems from the muddled characterization we’ve seen thus far. The main issue actually falls on Rebecca. As stated earlier, she is an objectively flawed character, but the film does not treat her as such, and makes no effort to giver her an arc. Had attention been paid to her, it would have been all the more obvious that in a situation where she should have some sort of denouement, a confrontation with the mob is the obvious and sole choice. If I were to suggest a rewrite, I would alter the confrontation thusly: Renfield and Rebecca arrive to fight the Dracula-mob alliance, to find that Teddy Lobo now has Renfield powers, as per the film. Teddy Lobo’s mother, the current head of the mob, is likewise still present in the building. Rather than a brief interchange between Rebecca and Teddy, this should be her main fight. Renfield can be occupied keeping all the other new Renfield-powered minions at bay in order to give Rebecca this personal payoff. A hero is only as good as the villain they defeat, and though Teddy Lobo is an emotional man-baby, even without powers he is still a physical threat to Rebecca thanks to the size and sex difference, and he did almost shoot her directly in the face to kill her earlier, as well as mocking her father’s death. Recall that her father’s murder is core to her motivations as a character, and if an arc had been planned for her, would also be where her “spine” is located. Moreover, she has more experience seeing Renfield in action, and so a better grasp of his powers in action, than she would of Dracula, whom she has never seen or encountered throughout the film, and a properly resourceful character could use what they learn to turn the tables. 

An aside here about character arcs for those interested in writing: proper character arcs involve applying constant pressure to a character in order to expose their “core” (what I called the spine earlier) which inevitably is where the main thesis of the arc is located. The character holds some worldview or belief very dearly, but there is a flaw baked into it. When all the illusions about the worldview and its flaw are exposed by increased pressure, the character must then make a decision to reject the flaw in the worldview and overcome it (a heroic arc) or else embrace the flaw and let it subsume the worldview (a villainous arc). (For a good video on arcs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1crdZI5Af0&t=4s).


In the case of Rebecca, the film seems to want to have her go through an arc of not letting mourning over a dead family alienate her from her remaining, living family connections. She and her sister are MEANT to be at odds and Rebecca’s monomaniacal desire to bring the mob to justice for the death of her father is meant to be distancing her from her sister. However, the movie does not SHOW this, as she and her sister still talk, and her sister has such a good relationship that she doesn't even need to forgive Rebecca for insulting her, and is ready to leap to her aid at a moment’s notice. The failure to expose a theoretical flaw (sacrificing current family relationships in pursuing a dead one) is what her confrontation with Dracula at the end hinges on. Dracula takes Rebecca aside, having killed her sister, and offers to bring the sister back to life and help Rebecca take down the mob if she serves him. This doesn’t work for a number of reasons: Rebecca has been shown to be superbly upright and righteous throughout the film, unwavering in her goal to bring the mob to JUSTICE, NOT to get revenge or compromise any principles at all. There has been no hint that she is willing to do something underhanded until the plot literally gives her no other ground on which to stand. Narratively, she is placed in direct opposition with every other cop in her precinct, as 100% of them are corrupt and owned by the mob and she is the only one who can resist corruption. She is also shown to be intelligent, cunning, and devious in pretending to acquiesce to a temptation to embrace corruption, while ultimately rejecting it. So there is no reason for an audience member to believe she will take Dracula up on his offer. Think about how The Rise of Skywalker attempts to sell the audience on the idea that Rey might turn evil. This temptation falls flat because Rey has demonstrated nothing but upright mercy, goodness, etc. throughout two previous films. And though Dracula expressly stated earlier in the film that he wants to hurt Renfield for his betrayal by harming all the people he cares about, it is not clear how getting Rebecca to serve him instead of Renfield is the best way to do this, considering that Rebecca’s death would more negatively affect Renfield than her servitude to Dracula (a proposition I cannot expect anyone believed was going to happen). Dracula does not turn any of Renfield's therapy friends, for example, he simply slaughters them. 


Before I present my complete finale fix, I will address Renfield’s part in it. His fighting Teddy Lobo first, and Dracula second, is a baffling decision, as he has virtually no emotional investment in the mob boss’s son beyond the fact that they’ve seen each other a few times. Teddy Lobo serves only as a physical obstacle to him, but has nothing to do with Renfield’s arc, so a fight with him is not as satisfying as one that presents an emotional payoff. Worse, the film seems to be trying to say "hey, Renfield, how does it feel now that you've been replaced? Dracula doesn't need you" which runs counter to his stated goal of getting away from Dracula, and has nothing to do with the forced "greed and ambition" flaw the film tries to pretend is at his core. His core motivation is getting away from Dracula, and when Dracula will not let him get away cleanly, he must confront his monster, so to speak, so what is the point of having another character thumb his nose and say "Now I'M Dracula's minion. How does THAT feel, loser??" Since Dracula previously killed the people Renfield cares about in order to hurt him, Renfield's concern for Rebecca ought to be for her physical safety, not whether she becomes another version of him. The film WANTS to present Dracula as a character who is so completely charming that he can manipulate anyone by using their flaws against them, but does not show it on screen. Moreover, Renfield’s confessed reason for falling to Dracula’s manipulation: greed and ambition, are never explored, expanded on, or even SEEN for the entirety of the film, making that assertion ring hollow. In the meta, by relying on audience knowledge of Browning’s film for the backstory, the implication for Renfield’s fall to Dracula is that he was overcome by the power of supernatural evil thanks to naivety, NOT ambition. Besides his ruthless killing, Renfield remains a mild-mannered, kind, polite, and proper person with no ambition at all except freedom, and this does not work with the film’s STATED intentions.

Fixing Renfield’s involvement at the climax relies on fixing his muddled characterization throughout the film. If the movie wants to stick to the “therapy” ending, it would need to stop undermining therapy throughout, and work to show more of Renfield’s relationship with Dracula, and more importantly, humanize Dracula to some extent so the relationship more closely resembles real human interactions. I will argue that any story that boils down to “believe in yourself, you are totally worth it” will always ring hollow, but ESPECIALLY when the film wants to be funny and not focus on the very real emotional and psychological torment of the victim in the relationship. For that ending to work, the film would have to largely be a serious psychological study, and far more grounded (Actually, Whiplash might have been a good springboard for a film that wants to be that, especially if this film wants to also have "greed and ambition" be Renfield's underlying flaws). As it is, I think the film is strongest when serving as a horror-comedy, and I will argue for a total embrace of that direction. Because of the dark comedy aspects, I would also argue that a darker arc would be appropriate here. With a protagonist who is, for all intents and purposes, a serial killer working for one of the greatest and most famous monsters of pop culture, a darker arc would also be appropriate. In addition, the sort of bathos-filled comedic elements here are best served by an upside-down kind of story. Shrek is a perfect example of this, where it spends the entire runtime pulling the rug out from under traditional fairytales, taking virtually nothing seriously except the concept of love, but still upending the typical trope in that the princess marries an ogre rather than a prince.


For the movie Renfield, I would point to two seeds which were planted, but never grew to anything. One, the stated “ambition” that Renfield apparently had which caused him to fall to Dracula’s manipulation to begin with, and the very curious scene at therapy where the therapist tells Renfield to embrace that is HE, rather than Dracula who will “grow to full power.” (Additionally, Renfield is shown to have basically no qualms about murdering people he has deemed “bad” or who hurt people he cares about, which ought to make him somewhat morally ambiguous, and would lead to the ending I propose as a fix).


To return to the final confrontation, I would argue that Rebecca confronts Teddy Lobo, and through use of her resourcefulness and cunning (as already displayed earlier in the film), is able to overcome his brashness and stupidity. She then would be confronted with a different character decision, as Teddy Lobo’s mother, who is present, would come to plead for her son, suddenly placing Rebecca in the position of mobster about to kill someone and harm a family member: ie, a reversal of what happened with her father. This would require her to evaluate a different flaw, in this case, a hunger or thirst for revenge and whether she is willing to do anything it takes to achieve it. The best choice of course is that she decides NOT to become what she hates, and instead uses this leverage to take down the mob by getting the mob boss to acquiese to her in exchange for her son’s life. In the meanwhile, as with Bunraku, Renfield is unable to defeat Dracula single-handedly, because of course he can’t. If he could, then the audience would wonder why he was so scared of Dracula for so long. As in the film, Rebecca could then come to Renfield’s aid and I would even argue to keep the scene where she uses the information she’s been taught about Dracula’s blood in order to revive Renfield, as the scene currently exists.

At this point, the film could have relied more on the book, though its relationship with the book and the character of Dracula at large is in my section on nitpicks. In Bram Stoker’s work, Dracula preying on someone does not turn them into a vampire like him, but a weaker version. To become one like him requires the person to imbibe Dracula’s blood. I thought for sure the film was doing this, as the blood which drips onto Renfield to revive him in the climax falls directly onto and into his mouth. Given the earlier “I [Renfield] will rise to full power”, his ambiguous morality, and supposed ambition, him becoming a vampire on par with Dracula would be an obvious direction to take. In the film, as it exists, Renfield even breaks off Dracula’s fangs, and Dracula actually tells him “YOU CAN’T TAKE MY FANGS!” in an almost meta nod to this possibility. Obviously, the film instead chooses to have Renfield use self-affirmation while punching Dracula pointlessly with his own fangs, instead of taking them for himself and then supplanting Dracula. My fix, of course, would be this second route. This would also keep Renfield and Rebecca aligned after the conclusion, as Renfield seems to have little to no qualms killing “bad people” and Rebecca still wants to take down the mob. Renfield CANNOT rejoin society, as the film points out the FBI and INTERPOL have his DNA and fingerprints and actually think he is an international serial killer who has been operating for a very long time (which he more or less is). The completed story for both characters would then be Renfield becomes the new Dracula, though one aimed more towards “good” with Rebecca becoming his Renfield. The fact that they don’t know how to kill Dracula leaves the path for a sequel, just as in the film, but gives a better springboard to launch from, as the evil people of the world would of course want to join with a returned Dracula if there’s a younger version of him going around killing them all.


Nitpicks and minor problems:


This film is very unclear to what extent ordinary people know about Dracula in the meta. The name seems to require no introduction, implying that this film exists in a universe where movies about Dracula, even books, and other media, are commonplace. This is frustrating, as the film never takes the time to establish what should and shouldn’t be known about Dracula at any given time. Though the film nods constantly to the book and the 30s film, it also gives Dracula a totally different set of weaknesses (sunlight is the ONLY weakness given him in this movie), while not providing most of his well-known powers. This means that fans of the character are left scratching their heads, wondering what, if anything, from the source material applies, while it is simultaneously unclear what characters within the narrative itself know, and it is impossible to understand anyone's relationship or understanding of Dracula with anyone else. Rebecca seems to know without explanation that Dracula eats people, but still needs to have Renfield explain the specifics of how Dracula manipulates people to her, since this is not part of the meta so far as I'm aware. The mob boss herself addresses Dracula as “prince” which is quite odd when Dracula introduces himself as “Count” elsewhere, and no one introduces him as "prince" in that scene, implying that she has some historical knowledge and has conflated Count Dracula with Vlad the Impaler, which is something I assume mostly only nerds would be able to do. All this only serves to muddy the character and world and our understanding of the relationship between Dracula and Renfield, and between Dracula and the world at large.

Dracula does kiss her hand, though, lol.

Renfield' star Nicolas Cage explains why fans sometimes slap him | SYFY WIRE
One really petty nit, but also a seriously missed opportunity. For some reason, the film spends what might be as many as thirty seconds on a SKA joke, and how lame it is as a musical genre. This joke exists in the context of one of the group therapy attendees who is in a codependent relationship explaining that her SO loves SKA. After wasting time hating on this obscure music genre, the film cuts to the SO in question, with a visual reference to SKA as well. Renfield shows up to kill him, and oddly enough, no SKA plays (that I recall) while renfield kills the man and his friends. Considering the dark comedy aspects, I would have certainly thought the film would do at least that much, as it feels like a missed opportunity. Imagine, after all, dying while some SKA music plays loudly and diagetically in the background (it was on his playlist, which accidentally gets turned all the way up for the ensuing beat down).

The soundtrack was absolutely forgettable, but so are most soundtracks these days. However, setting the film in New Orleans afforded the chance to flavor the film with local music and flavor, but nothing appears on film. The best we get is the Mulates bar. No nightlife, no food, no city history, nothing. What an absolute wasted opportunity, and given that New Orleans is a vampire hub in Americana, what an even FURTHER wasted opportunity. (For more on why modern soundtracks are terrible, this may illumine you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vfqkvwW2fs).


While the “woke” aspects are minor, and I do praise the movie for managing to work them in in a way that felt organic, the lack of self-awareness with regards to Rebecca’s character, and the fact that she never fails in any way or is faced with any serious struggle is a real shame. Her being made intentionally unattractive works here because of the comedic aspect, as well as her abrasiveness. Renfield’s attraction to her because of her willingness to stand up to overwhelming evil and odds turning into a sort of puppy love is actually explained well in-universe and works as presented, but she needed more work in the end.

In the end, all I feel is disappointment, because the bones were there for this film to REALLY work. I'm sorry Cage and Hoult, I would have liked to see you both in these roles again
Renfield Featurette Teases a Unique Horror Comedy With Dracula