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Renfield’s Trailer Suggests a Win for Universal’s Dark Universe

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One of the most disappointing aspects of Universal’s Dark Universe is how quickly it petered out. Tom Cruise’s The Mummy had an awful critical and fan reception, while director Leigh Whannell had to repeatedly state his bleak take on The Invisible Man wasn’t part of that universe.


Universal has dropped the first trailer for Renfield, with Nicholas Hoult as the title character and Nicolas Cage as the iconic Dracula. However, rather than something grim that takes itself way too seriously, it has fans lapping up the humor. In the process, from the reception to the aesthetic of the film, this feels like the perfect formula for Universal’s creature-verse.

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Universal’s Dark Universe Can Make Camp Its Strength

Renfield is subverting Dracula and his sidekick as buddies rather than the master-slave dynamic from Bram Stoker’s story. Here, Renfield is chasing love in New Orleans while the Count is being as ridiculous as possible over losing his pal. This over-the-top Cage nods to so many roles, from National Treasure to Mandy to Kick-Ass, capitalizing on modern fans, as well as nostalgics — evidenced by how fans adored the meta The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.

Hoult, himself, is no stranger to this genre, from the romantic Warm Bodies to the dark The Menu. The chemistry of Renfield‘s cast shines a lot from just the trailer alone, which has the actors playing to their strengths. This way, fans can get something that’s quirky, uplifting and genuine, which has been seen with the vampires on What We Do in the Shadows. Such hilarious, simple stories resonate a lot in this era, which would allow Universal to differentiate itself from the expected.

By charting personal, intimate and cheesy stories in a self-contained manner and perhaps later uniting them for an apocalyptic threat or to fight each other down the line, fans would get as close as possible to what the Marvel Cinematic Universe does so well: campy character portraits. And there’s no example better than a Dracula needing therapy and a Renfield wondering how to cut ties, which produces the same creative balance and energy that made the Werewolf By Night short a hit — sprinkling minimal rage while mainly focusing on the fun.

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Universal Should Focus on Relatable Narratives

Renfield movie

Universal had plans for Johnny Depp to be the Invisible Man, with Javier Bardem as Frankenstein’s monster, Angeline Jolie as the Bride of Frankenstein, and Ryan Gosling or Dwayne Johnson as the Wolf Man. But this felt like the studio was relying more on star power than the pulse of pop culture. The perfect example of this is how Russell Crowe’s Jekyll and Hyde bombed in The Mummy, with fans chiding how Universal forced it as its take on Bruce Banner and the Hulk.

Again, Universal doesn’t need this sort of grandiose, high-stakes tactic to succeed — at first. An Invisible Man struggling with, say, being a burglar as opposed to a predator, would work, akin to Scott Lang’s Ant-Man; a young Wolf Man bumbling through an office job and trying to gain a promotion would feel like a mature Teen Wolf; not to mention the Frankensteins could try to form a family in their lab, nodding to The Addams Family and a dynamic that’s popular right now on Netflix’s Wednesday. The latter especially shows how to make gothic tales cool and endearing, as opposed to having her off saving the world from dire threats.

Not everything has to be a Zack Snyder-like journey with a bombastic cinematic scope. Needling down to making these characters as human as possible is what truly matters, which is why, while Cage isn’t the big draw per the 1980s and ’90s, fans will still flock to his films. Ultimately, there’s an emotive energy and humanity that Hoult and Cage are leaning into, which can help fans view these monsters as cuter, funnier and better than mankind.

Renfield opens in theaters on April 14.

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