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Nicolas Cage Is Having the Time of His Life in ‘Renfield’

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Editor’s Note: The following contains Renfield spoilers.. Is Renfield the performance of Nicolas Cage’s career? It’s certainly a contender, because I’ve never seen this man have more fun onscreen than as cinema’s newest incarnation of Dracula. Scenery-eating? Pfft. More like a glorious scenery bloodbath. His Dracula is a snarling, bitter, posturing piece of work, campy to the most minute of comedic timing yet reveling in absurd levels of slapstick gore. The Renfield film is an enjoyably creative addition to vampire lore due in large part to Cage’s contributions as the world’s most famous vamp. The Count’s requisite charm, sadism, and brutality are all present yet filtered through Cage’s uniquely undefinable screen presence. For an actor with Mount Everest-level career highs and lows as deep as erroneous claims he can’t act, seeing him have the time of his life transposes into an unfairly delightful experience, one where I exit the theater mentally yelling “10/10 would Nic Cage again.”. Nicolas Cage Makes His Dracula Unique in ‘Renfield’. Image via Universal Pictures. There’s a certain expectation when the words “Nicolas Cage as Dracula” accompanies a film. For some, it’s feral eagerness; others, for it’s eye-rolling disinterest. Not everyone will vibe with Cage’s, well, vibes as Dracula, but he’s something of a marvel in how he inherits several cinematic Dracula legacies while forging his own distinct path. Positioned as a sequel to the Universal Studios 1931 Dracula movie that launched a pop icon and hundreds of imitators means Cage steps into Bela Lugosi’s shoes quite literally: take the black-and-white opening that recreates scenes from Lugosi’s Dracula with exacting detail. Camera framing, line readings, and body positioning set the foundation for Cage to incorporate some of Lugosi’s trademarks. Case in point, Cage mimics the late actor’s facial tics and awkwardly formal posture, and there are echos of Lugosi’s studiously paced, staccato dialogue in Cage’s delivery. He drips suavity when needed (god bless Shohreh Aghdashloo’s character wanting to jump his bones — she’s a fellow villain lover!). Cage’s razor-sharp hand gestures go so far as to mimic Max Schreck’s inhuman Nosferatu, iconography Cage purposefully integrated into his performance.. But as a veteran performer still interested in evolving his acting craft, Nicolas Cage’s turn as the Transylvania devil is no haphazard imitation suited to a Saturday Night Live sketch. Rather, assuming Lugosi’s one-hundred-year-old role feels like a natural extension of the unpredictable, visceral ride that defines most Nicolas Cage performances. This is a part that’s built for him, or at least built to match his prevailing film persona. Cage was excited about Renfield; he spoke with Collider about how he let his imagination run free while filming. “I’m always looking for context that allows me to become more surreal or abstract with film performance when it makes sense,” he explained — and really, is there any character more appropriate to that kind of exploration than Count Dracula? Cage’s natural volatility as an actor means we never know where his Dracula will hop next: an exaggerated finger to his pursed lips, a mocking vocal emphasis, a gore-splattered free-for-all. It’s automatically unsettling but riveting.. RELATED: Caged Deep Cuts: The 15 Most Underrated Nicolas Cage Roles of All Time. Nicolas Cage Plays Dracula With Unabashed Glee. Image via Universal Pictures. As a decrepit Dracula recovering his strength, Cage spends a sizable chunk of the movie’s first third in impressive practical makeup; he looks like a decaying husk. One wouldn’t be faulted for assuming such stiff face plaster is too restrictive to act around. That’s small potatoes to the man who dominates reaction gifs and TikTok meme templates. Cage’s wild expressions seep through the makeup just fine, as do Dracula’s rambling soliloquies. Since Dracula’s physically vulnerable, Cage provides a glimpse — just a glimpse — at a more soulful Dracula. At the same time, the Count’s got his head up his immortal butt. He’s consumed by grandiose ideas of world domination, or he’s whining about needing “purer” people to feed from than the criminals Renfield’s (Nicholas Hoult) been delivering. Through it all, and despite the makeup, Cage brings a relaxed sense to his Dracula. He suggests an arrogant ease born from centuries of existence compounded by being a supernatural creature who’s a master of life and death.. Once Cage is free of the makeup and Dracula’s back to full strength, he comes “alive” (if you’ll pardon the descriptor). He mocks Renfield’s attempts at self-improvement with pointedly melodramatic expressions, elaborate gestures, and operatic lines as gregarious as anything from Cage’s Face/Off days. He’s an especially bitter cat torturing a hapless mouse before zeroing in for the kill. And despite Dracula’s rising vindictiveness, there’s a clear glee riding beneath Cage’s performance. He revisits the German Expressionist acting style he previously utilized in Vampire’s Kiss to ideal effect. So many of Cage’s choices overlay Bela Lugosi’s performance like a film negative: Lugosi can seem over-the-top to modern audiences accustomed to more restrained performances from their elevated horror. Cage understands the assignment and matches that energy with his own flair.. ‘Renfield’ Isn’t Afraid To Let Dracula Get Violent. Image via Universal Pictures. Then there’s the gore. Renfield wastes no time earning its R-rating as Dracula goes ham ripping off heads and exploding bodies from the inside out. For these scenes, Cage flips a switch and channels Christopher Lee’s animalistic ferocity. Cage cited Lee as his favorite Dracula, and it shows in how he turns on a heel from subdued restraint to agile predator. He’s an unrepentant monster who basks in violence once the gentlemanly facade fades.. Likewise, Dracula’s infuriated that Renfield, a creature of less consequence than a rat, would dare defy him. He may even carry a nugget of hurt feelings. Doubtlessly, his familiar has rejected him, and that must sting an ancient narcissist. Renfield doesn’t suggest any true fondness, friendship, or equality between the men, nor is there a hint of compassion in Dracula’s bones. So when Dracula remorselessly punishes Renfield through a mass murder spree of innocents, it’s the vampire equivalent of a detonated bomb. For this moment, Cage channels his unhinged intensity from Mandy into something worthy of a full-tilt horror film. Call me an easy scare, but Cage is creepy as all hell between the cruel ease of his killing, his thoughtlessly cavalier disdain, and how he relishes spilling blood. He’s halfway to disturbing, especially when Dracula revels in the grisly aftermath with closed eyes and a face soaked in blood.. Even with the Christopher Lee-esque nature of it all, the uniqueness of Cage’s interpretation bears repeating. He knows his vampire history, which shows in a performance that’s nowhere near nuanced overall but carries many shades of intentionality. For fans equally well-versed in cinematic vampire history, watching him is surreal and invigorating. As Cage shared with Collider, “a lot of thought and a lot of reading through and tailoring went into it.” No surprise for an Oscar winner.. ‘Renfield’ Succeeds Thanks to Nicholas Hoult and Nicolas Cage’s Chemistry. A piece about Cageula can’t exclude the crux of Renfield’s story: the abusive relationship between master and familiar. It all starts well enough with Renfield embracing the strength and immortality Dracula promises. Dracula’s sweetly seductive speech in the opening sequence verges on reasonable if one conveniently overlooks all the death and destruction. But those pleasant words are lies designed to ensure Dracula’s survival. One hundred years in Dracula’s service has been the opposite of glamorous: Renfield attends to his master’s whims and receives manipulative abuse in response. Although played as a dark comedy, it’s nice to see an abuse survivor’s situation treated with surface-level dignity. This wouldn’t work without the chemistry between Hoult and Cage. Once the comedy’s worn off, Hoult wincing in practiced fear over Dracula’s blows — or worse — conveys how Dracula’s (actual!) gaslighting is perilously normalized. Hoult needs a scene partner to match his intensity, and Cage provides that dynamic exactly.. Personally, I would’ve preferred more of Dracula’s shark-wide, sharp-toothed smiles before the horror overwhelms the proceedings. It’s one of my few knocks against the film, as is the simple fact we needed more of Cageula. Yes, most Dracula films take the “less is more” approach so scenes with the Count get more bang for their buck, but in a twist on Cage’s words to Collider, how often will you see one of the industry’s most unique actors take on one of fiction’s most recognizable figures? After all, he had the time of his life playing him. In this formidable role, Cage proves hysterical, charming, terrifying, and altogether glorious 

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