To the Bat Cage!
If I have any complaints about this high-octane gore fest, it’s that it could have used more Nicolas Cage. I mean, that’s my complaint with almost all movies, but here especially. We’ll get to his performance, but the upshot is an absurd vampiric romp that slashes its bloodthirsty way through New Orleans, seen through the eyes of young Renfield (a foppish Nicholas Hoult).
Dracula (Cage) is living in the abandoned Charity Hospital after centuries of adventures with his familiar, Renfield. We’re shown some very satisfying black and white flashbacks, Cage doing his best Bela Lugosi in the flickering footage. Times are hard, though, and fighting the church’s vampire hunters has taken its toll. Dracula needs fresh victims, and in his weakened state, it’s down to Renfield to supply them.
Our boy is experiencing a kind of class consciousness, though, relating the exploitative relationship he has, and slowly coming to the conclusion that Dracula is kind of abusive. Inspired by a support group for toxic relationship survivors and the goriest meet cute ever with a local cop Rebecca Quincy (played by Awkwafina), Renfield moves out of the derelict hospital, determined to make his own way in the world.
The subplot is a chaotic mix of police corruption within the “PDNO”, as an organized crime group flexes its muscles. The crime family is fronted by a manic son (the hilarious Ben Schwarz), doing his mother’s bidding (Shohreh Aghdashloo as the hard-nosed matriarch).
Renfield tries to escape Dracula’s clutches as he also helps Quincy and pursues self-improvement in the group. Dracula is a tenacious boss, though, and chases Renfield down. It’s here that Cage excels, delivering a wonderfully camp portrayal, mixed with sinister undercurrents of bullying. He obviously relishes every word, and every flamboyant body movement.
There are a couple of large fight scenes, each doused with such cartoonish amounts of blood and carnage that it’s hard to be squeamish about. People are beaten to death with another person’s limbs, heads and legs are detached and fly through the air, and it feels like the director (Chris McKay) is just seeing what he can get away with. The effects are great, Cage becoming a smoke cloud or a colony of bats as he terrorizes just about everyone.
There are some good local jokes, it being set in New Orleans and being a great addition to the canon of NOLA media post-lockdown [see our feature on that here]. Renfield and Quincy escape a fight and need to meet to regroup and one of them yells, "Meet me at Cafe du Monde!", you know, WHERE THE LOCALS MEET. Quincy also delivers a good bit about the Sysyphian task of sobriety traffic stops in a city that has drive-through daiquiri stores.
Is the movie ridiculous? Yes. Is the plot, even within its own universe, completely goofy? Hell yes. Would I almost immediately see it again because it was a fun time? Absolutely. I wish Dracula had a few more dramatic flourishes, but hey, I’ll stick my neck out for Renfield. (PO)
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