|Directed by||Chris McKay|
|Screenplay by||Ryan Ridley|
|Story by||Robert Kirkman|
by Bram Stoker
|Music by||Marco Beltrami|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Box office||$25.6 million|
Renfield is a 2023 American comedy horror film directed and produced by Chris McKay, and written by Ryan Ridley from a story by Robert Kirkman, who also served as producer. Inspired by characters from the 1897 novel Dracula by Bram Stoker, the film stars Nicholas Hoult, Awkwafina, Ben Schwartz, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Brandon Scott Jones, Adrian Martinez, and Nicolas Cage.
The film tells a story of the character Renfield in the classic monster universe, but the film entered development hell after the commercial failure of The Mummy (2017). Kirkman later pitched a new version of the film to the studio, leaning more into the comedic aspects of the story, and the production rights were acquired by Skybound Entertainment. Dexter Fletcher was originally announced as director in 2019, but McKay eventually replaced him, working off the Ridley script and Kirkman's original pitch. Much of the cast joined between August 2021 to January 2022, and filming took place from February to August 2022, on a production budget of $65 million.
Renfield had its world premiere at the Overlook Film Festival on March 30, 2023, and was released in the United States on April 14, 2023, by Universal Pictures. The film received mixed reviews from critics, who praised the comedic tone and performances but criticized the screenplay and story. It has grossed $25 million worldwide.
In the early 20th century, Transylvanian vampire Count Dracula meets English lawyer R. M. Renfield. Renfield hopes to broker a deal for some land, and after proving to be a useful assistant, he ends up becoming Dracula's familiar, allowing him to be immortal and gaining super strength and speed when he consumes bugs.
Ninety years later, Renfield has grown weary and exhausted of bringing victims to Dracula as well as the latter's abuse. They recently had a close call with some vampire hunters who almost killed the count, so the duo moves to New Orleans to recuperate. There, Renfield discovers a 12-step self-help group for people in codependent relationships and plans to hunt out the group's abusive lovers so he can give them to Dracula to feast on without feeling remorse. By following one to a warehouse with stolen drugs, Renfield is confronted by several criminals before they are all attacked by an assassin hired by the rival Lobo crime family.
After killing the assassin, Renfield unsuccessfully attempts to hunt down the man who hired him, Tedward Lobo, who drives off in a hurry, and a weakened Renfield drags the corpses back to Dracula's lair in the basement of the dilapidated Charity Hospital. Teddy runs into a sobriety checkpoint that is run by Rebecca Quincy, a second-generation police officer, who arrests Teddy after he hurls bricks of cocaine at her. At the police station, Teddy is released from custody by corrupt police officers, while Rebecca has a confrontation with her sister Kate, an FBI agent.
Dracula tells Renfield that the criminals he has brought as food are insufficient, and that the vampire desires the blood of someone pure and innocent instead. Renfield goes to a restaurant to abduct commoners while Rebecca is also led there by clues from the crime scene. The two are caught in an attack on Rebecca's life that Teddy has been pressured into making so that the fierce reputation of the Lobos will be reestablished. Instead, Renfield and Rebecca defend themselves, killing several gang members and leading Teddy to escape.
Teddy's mother, Bellafrancesca, orders him to hunt down the man who killed her footsoldiers, and he ends up encountering Dracula when Renfield is away. The two agree to form an alliance while Renfield has taken to heart the teachings of his self-help group and decides to make a life for himself apart from his master. Setting up an apartment and changing his attitude to one of helpfulness, Renfield gives a statement to the police to help them try to finally stop the Lobos. However, Dracula learns of Renfield's betrayal and slaughters the support group members in front of his former minion.
Rebecca appears and finds Renfield surrounded by dead bodies, causing her to arrest him until she is swarmed by corrupt police officers and the Lobos, who also want revenge on Renfield. Rebecca refuses to hand Renfield over, and she barely escapes with him, getting shot in the process. The next morning, Rebecca finds that Renfield has saved her life, and he explains his true origin while confirming that he wants to reform himself. The two fight through a group of corrupt police officers and Lobo henchmen that come to the apartment to kill them and escape, but after attempting to call Kate, Rebecca discovers that she's been taken hostage by Dracula and Bellafrancesca. She and Renfield stockpile weapons and bugs to storm the Lobos' headquarters, only to find that Dracula has empowered over a half-dozen gang members, including Teddy, to have all of Renfield's supernatural abilities.
After a fight, Renfield kills Teddy and the gang members. Rebecca heads to stop Dracula, only to find that Kate is beaten to near-death and only the healing properties of Dracula's blood can save her, which he will offer in exchange for Rebecca's loyalty. She tricks Dracula by pretending to agree and then injuring him by exposing him to sunlight, leading to him having a final standoff with Renfield and Rebecca that ends with the two collaborating to capture him in a magical circle.
Renfield and Rebecca beat Dracula into pieces, capture his healing blood, and divide up the bits of his corpse into pieces of concrete that they scatter across the water system, either finally destroying the vampire or at least making it very hard for him to reform his body. Renfield then heals Kate (who, along with Rebecca, arrests Bellafrancesca) and later resurrects his self-help group friends, feeling empowered to make a new life for himself.
Additionally, Helen Chandler and Edward Van Sloan respectively appear as Mina Seward and Van Helsing via archive footage from Dracula (1931).
In July 2014, Universal Pictures announced classic horror film properties, including the character of Count Dracula, as part of a unified shared universe with Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan attached to oversee its development. After the negative reception of Dracula Untold (2014), its connections to a unified series were downplayed, and The Mummy (2017) was re-positioned as the first film in the series. The Mummy, a critical and commercial failure, resulted in Universal's decision to shift its focus to individual storytelling and move away from the shared universe concept.
Renfield is based on an original pitch by Robert Kirkman and uses a screenplay by Ryan Ridley. In November 2019, Dexter Fletcher was hired to direct the film for Universal and Skybound Entertainment. The film was described as a comedic approach to the story of Count Dracula, in the vein of Taika Waititi's vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows (2014), that focuses on the character of Renfield. In 2020, Leigh Whannell's The Invisible Man became a commercial and critical success for Universal and served as a relaunch to its monster universe. In April 2021, Chris McKay entered negotiations to direct after Fletcher left to work on a reboot of The Saint for Paramount Pictures. McKay was hired because he reportedly gave a successful pitch combining the story's mix of humor and action, "something the studio was looking to have more of". In March 2023, McKay described the film as a "quasi-sequel" to Universal's 1931 English-language film Dracula, depicting the same characters of Dracula and Renfield ninety years on, with the film's black-and-white opening scene depicting the beginning of Dracula (1931) with Nicolas Cage and Nicholas Hoult respectively inserted in place of Bela Lugosi and Dwight Frye as Count Dracula and Renfield.
Nicholas Hoult was cast as Renfield in August 2021. Nicolas Cage was cast to play Count Dracula in November, Awkwafina and Ben Schwartz were added to the cast in December, and Adrian Martinez, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Bess Rous, James Moses Black, Caroline Williams, and Brandon Scott Jones were confirmed to star the following year. An "enormous" fan of Dracula and the source material, Cage prepared for his role by observing the distinctive ways Dracula was portrayed on screen by Bela Lugosi, Frank Langella, and Gary Oldman. "What can I bring that will be different?", he said, "I want it to pop in a unique way. We've seen it played well, we've seen it play not so well, so what can we do? So I'm thinking to really focus on the movement of the character ... [and] that perfect tone of comedy and horror". Cage mentioned An American Werewolf in London (1981), Ring (1998), and Malignant (2021) as inspirations for the role. The film is Cage's first live-action film by a major studio since Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011).
Filming began in New Orleans on February 3, 2022, with Mitchell Amundsen serving as cinematographer. On February 8, more than twenty vehicles belonging to the production crew were burglarized. One security guard was present at the time of the incident, which occurred late at night in a secured parking lot. Crew member Elmo Peoples said the vandals had stolen his insurance papers, two bank cards, and a laptop. He added, "I'm supposed to be here all week and I don't even want to come back because I feel like they don't really care about us as much as the main characters or actors." Love Bugs Film LLC reassured the production crew that they would hire additional security. Filming wrapped on April 14, 2022, exactly one year prior to the film's scheduled release.
The film's black-and-white opening scenes recreate the events of Dracula (1931) with Nicolas Cage and Nicholas Hoult respectively inserted in place of Bela Lugosi and Dwight Frye as Count Dracula and Renfield ("compositing the actors into the old backgrounds — we're just erasing [the original actors] and putting Cage and Hoult in"), with Helen Chandler and Edward Van Sloan appearing as Mina Seward and Van Helsing via archive footage. Zene Baker, Ryan Folse and Giancarlo Ganziano served as editors.
Renfield had its world premiere at the Overlook Film Festival on March 30, 2023 and was released in theaters on April 14, 2023, by Universal Pictures. The film will be released on Blu-Ray and DVD on June 6, 2023 before streaming on Peacock on June 9.
Renfield: Bring Your Own Blood, a video game based on the film, was developed by Mega Cat Studios, published by Skybound Games and released on April 12, 2023, for Microsoft Windows. Renfield: Bring Your Own Blood is a bullet hell roguelite game.
As of June 1, 2023[update], Renfield has grossed $17.2 million in the United States and Canada, and $8.4 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $25.6 million.
In the United States and Canada, Renfield was released alongside The Pope's Exorcist, Mafia Mamma, Sweetwater, and Suzume, and was projected to gross $8–10 million from 3,375 theaters in its opening weekend. The film made $3.1 million on its first day, including $900,000 from Thursday night previews. It went on to debut to $8.1 million, finishing fourth behind The Super Mario Bros. Movie, The Pope's Exorcist, and John Wick: Chapter 4. The film made $3.1 million in its second weekend (dropping 61%), finishing in eighth.
On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 58% of 267 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 5.8/10. The website's consensus reads: "Although it fails to take full advantage of its committed stars and killer premise, Renfield's batty horror-comedy blend sinks in just enough to leave an impression." Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 53 out of 100, based on 49 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B–" on an A+ to F scale, while those polled by PostTrak gave it an 86% positive score.
Tim Robey of The Daily Telegraph gave the film 3/5 stars, writing, "It fulfils the basic requirements of a beat-'em-up formula established by Buffy and Blade, but that's it. To get any further, we'd have wanted a real sharpening of the emotional stakes." Amy Nicholson of The Wall Street Journal wrote, "The small gags are great, the overall story arc is weak—particularly a quasi-romantic subplot where a cop (Awkwafina) challenges Renfield to turn from heel to hero", and gave the film a B grade.
Conversely, Kevin Maher of The Times gave the film a score of 2/5, calling it "a gore-splattered, consistently tiresome, one-joke movie that could only have been pitched in a Hollywood development meeting as, you know, 'It's fucking Dracula!'" Alison Willmore of Vulture praised the film's premise, but said it had "maybe a comedy sketch's worth of ideas to stretch over a feature-length run time." ABC News's Peter Travers wrote, "what started as a clever, contemporary spin on the Dracula myth gets swallowed up into a quicksand of cartoonishly repetitive, R-rated action cliches that make Renfield seem too long at a scant 93 minutes."
In the first trailer for Universal Pictures' horror-comedy Renfield[...]
The break-ins happened Tuesday night in a parking lot that is reserved for a nighttime film crew who are working on Renfield, starring Nicolas Cage.