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‘Renfield’ review: Dir. Chris McKay (2023)

In 2017 with the help of Tom Cruise, Universal Studios released an updated take on a well-known story with The Mummy. The movie was meant to be the opening chapter of what was supposed to become an entire ‘dark universe’ of films, with modern reworkings of their classic monsters. Unfortunately The Mummy was met with less than favourable reviews, and its audience agreed, making the film something of a flop. Ideas of a resurrection of Universal’s iconic horror era were shelved. You can’t keep a good monster down though and after Leigh Whannell’s success with his version of The Invisible Man, the studio decided to exhume their tombs once more. Their decision paved the way for Chris McKay’s latest film, Renfield, which opens the door for a new take on Dracula. 


Renfield stars Nicholas Hoult as the titular character. Those familiar with their vampiric lore will know the name Renfield to be that of Dracula’s most loyal servant. After centuries of serving his master, Renfield has become downtrodden and disillusioned. His life is a bitter cycle of repetition; helping Dracula achieve full power, before being thwarted and having to be nursed back to power again. Being trapped under the control of the boss from Hell is a situation that many can relate to, though Renfield’s immortality and inability to change careers paints him as a truly sad figure. Hoult is excellent in the role, and by the end of his introductory monologue, the audience is already on his side. 

There could be no Renfield without Dracula and so the Count obviously plays a big part in the story. A master of so many genres and characters, Nick Cage once more proves why he is one of the best actors working. His take on Dracula is fabulously exaggerated, and the true personification of the ultimate toxic boss. Conversations between master and slave demonstrate Dracula’s brute-force manipulations perfectly; as much as he is the villain, the audience can’t help but love every moment that he appears on screen. Cage has clearly studied the great Draculas that have gone before him, and a little bit of each of them is layered within his performance. A key sequence at the start where Renfield recounts the pair’s history acts as a joyful Easter egg for Dracula fans, whilst also giving Cage the perfect opportunity to homage his heroes. Iconic moments from Dracula’s movie history are recreated, helping to set the humorous tone for the film that follows. 

Hoult’s version of Renfield is unlike what has been committed to screen before. Typically the character is languishing in a mental institution, frantically feeding on insects, chanting ‘the blood is the life.’ Here the character has moved beyond that, a perfect example of somebody who realises they are locked into a toxic relationship, but can’t get out of it. After a routine hunt for a fresh victim for his boss goes awry, Renfield finds himself on the path to possible redemption. After taking down a restaurant full of a local mob contingent, Renfield is lauded as a hero by Officer Qunicy (Awkwafina). Spurred on by a sudden flourish of confidence, and with help of his support group for fellow co-dependents, Renfield attempts to leave Dracula behind him. His master has other plans for Renfield however, as does the local crime boss whose plans Renfield scuppered…


The criminal aspect of the narrative grants the potential for action, and director Chris McKay runs with it. The fight sequences are well choreographed and do not hold back. From its opening moments Renfield is not afraid to get messy and is littered with dismembered body parts, explosions of blood and bone-breaking violence. The gore is gleefully over the top, almost cartoonish in nature, and is exactly the right level of insanity that the film desires. The mob component also allows for the introduction of Ben Schwartz’ Teddy Lobo. He is the son of the local kingpin and the epitome of spoiled, spineless brat. Schwartz gives everything his comedic chops have and provides a ton of Renfield’s funnier moments.

At barely ninety minutes, the pacing of Renfield is relentless. There is hardly an ounce of fat on the film, and it races quickly to its conclusion. In a world of movies that are frequently over the two hour mark, Renfield offers the viewer (and their bladders) a welcome condensed shot of entertainment. McKay crams as much horror, humour, and action as possible into the short run time, but never sacrifices the emotional story at Renfield’s core. Renfield is about a man reclaiming his own power and will be an escapist fantasy for anyone stuck working for a tyrant. A bone-breaking jaunt that respects and retools an iconic monster and his servant, Renfield perfectfully updates a classic for the next generation. 


Kat Hughes



An entertaining blend of horror, comedy, and action with some great performances all round. Nick Cage is perfect as Dracula, and Nick Hoult makes an excellent modern day co-dependent. Sure to be a crowd-pleaser Renfield is a disarmingly charming, explosively gory, and wickedly funny.


Renfield is released in the UK on Friday 14th April 2023. 

Kat Hughes is a UK born film critic and interviewer who has a passion for horror films. An editor for THN, Kat is also a Rotten Tomatoes Approved Critic. She has bylines with Ghouls Magazine, Arrow Video, Film Stories, Certified Forgotten and FILMHOUNDS and has had essays published in home entertainment releases by Vinegar Syndrome and Second Sight. When not writing about horror, Kat hosts micro podcast Movies with Mummy along with her five-year-old daughter.


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