Renfield Ending Explained: Embracing The Un-Familiar

This article contains massive spoilers for "Renfield."

Count Dracula (aka Vlad the Impaler, aka Nosferatu, aka The Master) is a character whose attributes vary over the decades of different adaptations on stage, page, and screen. Some versions of Dracula show him using fangs to drain his victims of blood while others do not. The Count may or may not be able to transform himself into various animals (ranging from a bat to a wolf), he may or may not possess extraordinary strength, he may or may not have a peculiar aversion to garlic, and so on.

Yet although only some versions of Dracula find him utilizing a faithful servant (aka a Familiar), one of the vampire's powers that has never left him is that of bringing ordinary humans under his thrall. Sometimes this power is akin to a combination of mentalism and charm, and sometimes it's full-on supernaturally-powered hypnosis, but Dracula is always able to bring those he wishes around to his way of thinking.

If that sounds like the very definition of a manipulative narcissist to you, congratulations: you're on the first step to recovering from a toxic relationship with the Count. That's exactly where Robert Montague Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) finds himself at the beginning of "Renfield," frequently attending a support group in hopes of slowly separating himself from his centuries-long service to Dracula (Nicolas Cage). Renfield is still in denial upon joining the group, yet deep down he knows he must break his habit of codependency — a tall order when the man he's entangled with is literally an immortal bloodsucker.

Your friendly neighborhood Renfield

When "Renfield" begins, Renfield knows he's got as much work to do on himself as anything else — in a flashback combined with Renfield's narration, it's established that this Renfield is intended to be the same as (or at least has a similar origin to) Dwight Frye's Renfield from Tod Browning's 1931 "Dracula." In that movie, as is here, Renfield was a solicitor looking to help the Count make a real estate deal, something that Renfield later admits was a selfish move on his part.

Before he can admit his own faults to himself, however, Renfield is attempting to shift the goalposts of his codependency. He's using the support group not to discuss his issues but to listen to the other members discuss theirs, in hopes of learning about toxic manipulators who he can then go hunt down and bring to Dracula to eat. He does just this with a few ska-loving would-be drug dealers, who ripped off a local New Orleans crime family, the Lobos. When the black sheep son of the Lobo family, Tedward (Ben Schwartz), witnesses Renfield literally tear apart the assassin sent to kill the thieves, he vows to hunt the strange man down.

Meanwhile, Tedward and the Lobo family have beef with a NOLA cop who can't be bought, Rebecca (Awkwafina), thanks in large part to the Lobos being responsible for the death of her hero cop father. When Tedward is ordered by the matriarch of the Lobos, Bella-Francesca (Shohreh Aghdashloo), to whack Rebecca, he confronts her at a chintzy Bourbon Street restaurant, the same one Renfield is using to scout out potential Dracula food. In a spectacularly gory altercation, Renfield saves Rebecca's life, causing the wayward Familiar to be dubbed by her as a "hero."

An invitation to misery

Renfield has already been primed to break away from his Master even before he's considered a local hero. For one thing, Dracula (still recovering and regenerating from an incident where he was almost consumed by daylight) has been nothing but abusive to his Familiar lately, complaining about the quality of human food (apparently, innocent blood tastes best), wounding Renfield and putting him through physical agony before healing him with magic Dracula blood, and explaining to Renfield his plan to take over the world (with the Familiar given a literally tacked-on position of honor as Dracula's chief follower).

Emboldened by Rebecca's admiration and finally opening up to the support group, Renfield cleans up his life, getting rid of the various bugs that give him temporary Dracula-level powers and instead living according to motivational posters, self-help books, and sweater sales at Macy's. Unfortunately, Dracula is able to heal to nearly full power while sequestered within an abandoned hospital and hunts his old Familiar down after not seeing him for a while. After Renfield is berated by the manipulative Dracula for being both weak and far more monstrous than the vampire is — after all, the Familiar allowed and/or orchestrated the murders of numerous innocents and initially willfully joined Dracula thanks to the promise of immortality and power — the Count discovers that Renfield has been put on this path partly due to his support meetings at the church.

Renfield rushes to the support group to warn them, but cannot help the group members cheerfully inviting Dracula in when he arrives. The vampire brutally murders the entire group in front of Renfield, after which he's discovered by a responding Rebecca, who believes him responsible for the slaughter.

With great vamp-powers comes great responsibility

Renfield is about to be taken into custody when seemingly the entire corrupt police force turns on the young cop, demanding that the Familiar be handed over to the Lobos. Thanks to Rebecca's quick thinking, the pair escape and hide out at Renfield's apartment. Even after explaining his relationship with Dracula to her, Rebecca doesn't let Renfield off the hook, exclaiming that he's not a villain and not a hero, but something in between.

She doesn't use the term, but it's as clear a definition of an anti-hero as you're gonna get, something the film doubles down on once a new wave of Lobo goons arrives to put the hurt on Renfield and Rebecca. Renfield downs a kid neighbor's ant farm to activate his powers (to the child's anguish) then John Wick's his way through the henchmen in the goriest fashion possible. One wonders if had Universal's "Dark Universe" concept not fallen through, "Renfield" would've been part of it. 2017's "The Mummy" sought to bring superhero tropes to the Universal Monsters world and 2014's "Dracula Untold" attempted to establish a more anti-hero-ish version of the Count. Renfield would have fit in nicely.

Regardless, Renfield is finally able to see himself clearly after this encounter, confessing to Rebecca that he abandoned his wife and child back in the '30s to follow Dracula's promises of glory, completing the necessary step in healing from codependency by acknowledging how much of his own power he'd given his Master. Once Rebecca and Renfield discover that Rebecca's FBI agent sister, Kate (Camille Chen) has been captured by the Lobos, they decide to gear up and take the fight to them.

It won't be easy, though — during the interim, Dracula infiltrated the Lobo family, and made Tedward his new chief Familiar.

Renfield faces (and stabs, and burns) his demons

After Renfield has a knock-down, drag-out fight with Tedward, defeating him with a blow that may be a reference to this moment from 1974's "The Street Fighter," he finds Dracula attempting to corrupt Rebecca. The Count shows the cop that her sister has been critically wounded by the Lobos, and the only thing that can heal her back to life is his blood. Rebecca is stalwartly incorruptible though and weakens the vampire with a flash of daylight.

Fleeing to a windowless room, Dracula attempts to crush Renfield in both body and spirit. The Familiar holds him off long enough for Rebecca to utilize the Lobo's nearby cocaine stash to construct a magic binding circle to entrap Dracula, which Rebecca happily explains is due to her reading instructions on "Wiccan Tumblr." The now-trapped Dracula is then subjected to all manner of torture and potential death at the hands of Renfield and Rebecca, the former admitting that a surefire method of killing Dracula is difficult to come by.

With Dracula eternally bound, if not killed, within the Lobo's mansion, Bella-Francesca is taken into federal custody by Kate, who has been resurrected by Rebecca and Renfield using Dracula's magic blood. Although Renfield offers to remove himself from the human world, Rebecca convinces him that he's a good man at heart, and has much to offer humanity after all.

The initial thing Renfield has to offer is more Dracula blood, using it to resurrect all the slain members of his support group. With the support of the group, Rebecca, and his own self-knowledge, Renfield is finally able to leave his Familiar life behind him, becoming a walking example of how therapy really works. 

As do knives, stakes, daylight, and maybe even garlic ... at least in this instance.