starring Nicholas Hoult, Nicolas Cage, Awkwafina, Benjamin Schwartz
screenplay by Ryan Ridley
directed by Chris McKay
starring Jorma Tommila, Aksel Hennie, Jack Doolan, Mimosa Willamo
written and directed by Jalmari Helander
by Walter Chaw Chris McKay is an able director still looking for a project that isn't an embarrassing high concept. His years on "Robot Chicken" and "Moral Orel" demonstrate a strong sense of timing and a willingness to offend the status quo, but so far--between The Lego Batman Movie, The Tomorrow War, and now Renfield--McKay has only been tasked with shepherding a few expensive (if laboured and overburdened) cows to pasture. Renfield is both a workplace comedy and a Raimi-esque slap-stick splatter ("splat-stick?") flick in which bug-eating vampire familiar Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) attends codependency support groups to listen to other people complain about toxic relationships. It seems his boss, Dracula (Nicolas Cage), is a raging narcissist, and Renfield, after centuries of servitude, has finally had enough. There's a parallel plot, too, involving a crime family led by imperious Bellafrancesca Lobo (a slumming Shohreh Aghdashloo) and her asshole son, Tedward (a not-slumming Ben Schwartz), running amuck while dedicated cop Rebecca (Awkwafina) and her FBI agent sister Kate (Camille Chen) try to bring them down.
The storylines intersect eventually in ways neither surprising nor clever (just inevitable, I guess, even tedious), leading to a series of well-wrought set-pieces drenched in gore and high spirits that demonstrate McKay's squandered capacity. The problem I have with Renfield is it doesn't ever cut the shit. The actualization shit, the buddy-cop shit, the organized-crime shit. What is all this shit? Here's Nicolas Cage in his second go-round as a vampire playing it to the absolute hilt with a very fine actor like Hoult tapped into the same wavelength as an occasionally superpowered nebbish, yet the bulk of it is given over to the one joke about Renfield talking about his "boss" to people who don't know he's talking about Dracula and then all this other noise. I'm not sure an updating of Dracula and Renfield needs a riff on self-help healing or, if it has that, whether it doesn't also need the stuff about taking down a crime syndicate and the one good cop in a corrupt system healing her relationship with an estranged sister while avenging their murdered dad. Why would something like Renfield take this long to summarize? It's like Fight Club except with a glow-up montage set to Lizzo and an entire police procedural subplot, plus mob stuff and a little rom-com garbage and on and on and on. Please, for the love of God, it's a 90-minute movie--75 minutes of which are spent wondering when it's going to get back to the point.
Jalmari Helander's Sisu, on the other hand, is a 90-minute movie with exactly one point and zero bullshit. It doesn't have much to say, but it says it at full volume with maximum fervour and an intense disinterest in ambiguity. That's great, because all Sisu is about is old Finnish guy Aatami (Jorma Tommila)--a war hero who has left WWII in the middle of it to go gold prospecting with his dog--and a group of Nazis that makes the mistake of fucking with him. It's been compared to John Wick, but that's not quite accurate: it's more like The Evil Dead in its energy and the indestructibility of a hero who "refuses to die" no matter how many bullets or knives to the side he takes, no matter how many times he's dragged by trucks and dropped by airplanes. Aatami is hung by the neck for a day, blown up in a minefield, submerged for what seems like an hour. He's not supernatural, he's just stubborn--and like the leprechaun of bad-horror-movie lore, he really just wants his gold. Sisu's action is staged with clarity and a solid sense of geography in terms of where antagonists are in relation to our hero and what's at stake. In a truck battle cribbed from Raiders of the Lost Ark, for instance, you never lose sight of the order of vehicles and their inhabitants, nor the progress Aatami is making through them. And the gore is aggressive and bloody. It's not grim, though; it's fun to watch Nazis getting slaughtered. I remember thinking by the time of the third Indiana Jones movie that they should move on to more current threats, only to see a Nazi resurgence three decades on, so Sisu actually feels pretty timely. The only thing Nazis deserve is a knife through their temple, a pickaxe through their skull, and the humiliation of losing, again, on the biggest screen possible. Sisu is shit, too, but the good kind.