Rated R because it is incredibly gory. There's a lot of swearing. Really, Renfield is one of those movies that is unabashedly R and embraces the living daylights out of it. It's so happy to have an R rating. There's some sex jokes, but they're so clouded by the non-stop gore and violence. It's kind of great.
DIRECTOR: Chris McKay
My dad was a huge Dracula nut, you know. This sounds weird because it doesn't read in the way I intend it. He was such a Dracula nut that I remember my parents holding vampire parties where people dressed up as vampires and vampire hunters. It was an intellectual thing, not anything bizarre, as far as I know. I have this gnawing thought in the pit of my stomach that he probably would have hated this movie because I think that we have very different tastes in things. But Renfield was one of our favorite parts of the Dracula lore. Renfield was this guy who sits almost in the background of the story. But honestly, there's something fascinating about Renfield because he just goes mad quickly.
Yet, I didn't want to really watch this movie. There's going to be a lot of Cocaine Bear comparisons in this blog, so mind as well get the first one out of the way. Renfield marketed itself the same way that Cocaine Bear did. No judgement because it works. It got people to see it. But in the same way that Cocaine Bear decided to market itself on the absurdity of a premise, Renfield decided to market itself on going full Nicholas Cage. I can't blame you. He's a meme for a reason. But I'm going to go out and say this from moment one: Nicholas Cage makes an amazing Dracula. I'm not saying that ironically. I think that Cage had just the right amount of fun with this while keeping absolutely tied to a master of the undead. Yes, go see this movie because of Nicholas Cage, but not because you are laughing at him. Go see this movie because Nicholas Cage absolutely rules in this role and he should always just be playing Dracula. That's what he was born for and that's what you should be watching this movie for. Maybe not for playing a version of Superman that never happened. Who knows? I'm judging a movie I haven't seen yet. Anyway.
This blog is going to be a little disjointed. Being on vacation is oddly more stressful than a standard workday because I can't depend on time. I started writing this two days ago and I'm just coming back to it now and Renfield isn't as fresh anymore. But we're going to continue on. Renfield is suprisingly funny. The trailer got me with one joke. I knew that Renfield would be kind of fun based on the joke in the trailer. The joke in the trailer that I'm referring to is the support group "Growing to full power" joke. I knew that there had to be someone behind the movie that at least had a sense of humor. But I got behind the entire movie pretty quickly. It's because the movie was written by Ryan Ridley. Now, I like Rick and Morty as much as the next guy. (To see where I'm going, Ryan Ridley is one of the higher ups at Rick and Morty and just just swirls around Dan Harmon.) Renfield is almost a healthier evolution of what Rick and Morty should be sometimes. I'm never telling Rick and Morty to change. But one of the things about Rick and Morty is that 90% of the show is about intellect and guardedness. Rick is never really going to grow up, partially because he's on a serialized show. All of the characters are fundamentally going to be a version of themselves that we saw on the first episode. Sure, there's going to be some growth. After all, Morty is far more comfortable with the bizarre than he was episode one. He's probably a little more jaded as well. But everything in that show is building to miserable characters being more miserable with only glimmers of hope. Renfield is...not that.
Renfield lives in a world where RIck and Morty like events can happen. Not only are there vampires out there --let alone Draculas --but these monsters are over the top. Rick and Morty relishes over-the-top. If you are going to have something like vampries, at least make them gory and ultraviolent. Like Rick and Morty, casual death is commonplace for the smaller characters. Let those NPCs wither away, I guess. But Ryan Ridley --being not Dan Harmon --instead decides to let the bloody violence be a contrast to what the themes of the story are: redemption. Rick vocalizes that he never really wants to be redeemed. Sure, that's hanging out in the background of the story in certain episodes. But Renfield is a story of regretting one's decisions. As much effort that was placed in making Renfield a violent comedy, it is about acknowledging one's responsibility in a cycle of abuse. Ridley does something kind of dangerous with his theme and pulls it off. The in-your-face message of the story is about the role of the abuser over the abused. After all, the support group is about vocalizing that powerful narcissists make you believe that you caused all this and deserve all of the bad stuff that happened to you. It's a joke for the sake of the movie, but it's fundamentally right. In codependent relationships, someone is either actively or passively controlling another and manipulating them into doing things that are not in the abused's best interest. But Renfield isn't a good guy. Renfield crossed a line a long time ago.
But I love that the line that was crossed a long time ago wasn't the mass murder. Don't get me wrong, Rebecca is probably really turned off by the notion that she's hanging out with a guy who has killed untold numbers of people, not all of whom are these bad guys that he's been trying to find. We all look at this character and know that his red flag should be the serial killing. But Ridley points the story further back at the initial decision to become Dracula's familiar. It's the one thing that most of us, as the audience, probably forgive Renfield for. Renfield was a dude on a job who was put under the thrall of Dracula. Now, I've always understood it as a supernatural thing. I kind of assumed it was a powerful suggestion that was beyond control. But Dracula and Renfield both point out that, while there is an element of the supernatural involved, there has to be a moment of choice. Renfield, a man who had a family, chose his ambition over his previous life. Maybe he didn't understand how much mass murder and bug eating that there was going to be in this life surrounding Dracula. But he did choose to abandon his family for the sake of power and success. Does Renfield deserve to be stuck in this world that he chose: no. But a lot of the story comes to riding that fine line of accepting what responsibility is yours to process and forgiving yourself for what was not your fault. I like that.
Do you know why that's a successful message? I know a lot of people have pulled something like that in other stories, but I think that Renfield is one of the more successful narratives that get an absolute monster total redemption. The funny thing is --and this is slightly depressing to me --that Ryan Ridley probably doesn't really care that much about co-dependency. I mean, he might. I don't know. For all I know, Dan Harmon is Ryan Ridley's Dracula in this scenario. But I don't know these people. I can listen to Harmontown on a loop for all it matters. It doesn't change that I don't have a relationship with these people. But I think that Ryan Ridley is just a talented comedy writer and that's not something that should punish him. It gives him a healthy distance from his subject matter, which probably allowed him to talk about something without having absolute reverence for it.
Can I tell you one thing that bummed me out? It's a joke end and I know it is a comedy, but it rhymes witth "Dracula Blood." (Okay, It's just an issue with "Dracula Blood.") I love the idea that Dracula's blood can heal injuries. I don't love that it cures death. This is where my big whiny voice needs to shut up. But anytime a movie casually discovers immortality, I roll my eyes. I mean, there were some real flashbacks to Star Trek Into Darkness watching that end. I think it is too easy to write it off as "it's a comedy." As silly as the movie was, the death of the support group is the hinging beat of the movie. Renfield's actions have consequences. Just getting them back without consequences is a real flat note on the film. I don't want to have that moment. Have them come back as zombies or a vampire support group. You know, a support group of vampires who don't want to be vampires? I mean, it's right there. But bringing back characters just because we like them is a weird choice.
But I dug it. The main reason is that it did what Cocaine Bear promised. (Oh no! I now remember my initial conceit too late.) Cocaine Bear promised a violent world of irony that would go over-the-top and never apologize for the conceit. And they kinda / sorta delivered. But then watch something like Renfield. Renfield promised to be silly and delivered on that. But then it went full Cocaine Bear for real. Honestly, there are so many over the top moments that you forget that there's a real story going on at the same time. I mean, this is all points to McKay because he's having so much fun with this. About 20 years ago, I co-directed this show that I normally wouldn't give the time of day to. We couldn't decide on a work in the canon (because I'm a snob) and we decided to delve into junior shows. But we were going to direct it like it was the most important show that ever existed. It was called, appropriately enough, Dracula Spectacula. It was made for little kids, but we kept adding more and more blood. That's Renfield. It should be a throwaway Universal property. Instead, good direction and good writing took what should have been a dumb dying property insane life. This is what Universal should be doing with their monster properties. Stop taking them so seriously. Have all the fun with them. Make them hard-R and silly. That's what these movies need.
So as you get, I enjoyed it. I don't know if Universal will learn the right lessons from this, but Renfield is the vibe these movies should be shooting for.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.