The film works pretty well when it’s riffing on old monster movies or leaning into the victim support group therapy angle, but it’s much less successful when it has to be a more generic crime movie.
The criminal underworld subplot gives Awkwafina’s cop her reason for being – to bring her father’s killer to justice – but we’ve seen all this before and the disparate plot elements from very different genres never quite mesh together comfortably. Fans of ‘Parks and Recreation’ already know how well Ben Schwartz plays annoying man-children, but slapping a load of tattoos on his neck doesn’t make him into a scary gangster, and Shohreh Aghdashloo’s crime family matriarch just isn’t memorable enough. Both performances pale in comparison to everyone taking part in the more vampire-adjacent portion of the story.
The group therapy scenes are also a little tonally wonky – if there’s one portion of the film that should be played completely straight as a counterpoint to the rest, it’s this aspect, and the members of the group are generally too broad or goofy to make an impact, their potentially interesting and heartfelt stories dropped in favour of the gag that Renfield’s sucky boss really does drain the lifeforce of everyone he encounters. A couple of moments here that might have had genuine impact are completely undermined shortly afterwards, perhaps in an effort to avoid too much of a downer ending.
Between this and The Lego Batman Movie, director Chris McKay seems to have a fascination with unhealthy co-dependent relationships explored through a colourful genre lens. Renfield might not do anything particularly revolutionary with the horror-comedy, but the claret-soaked action, Hoult and Awkwafina offering charisma in spades, and Cage not just tearing the throat out of the scenery, makes this worth your time.
Come for campy Count Cage, stay for Nicholas Hoult ripping people’s arms off to repurpose them as fleshy melee weapons.