- Hans Weber
- November 29, 2023
‘The Last Voyage of the Demeter’ movie review: Dracula’s not-so-maiden voyage
En route from Transylvania to London, Dracula creeps out of his coffin to feast on his crew in The Last Voyage of the Demeter, which failed to make a dent in the US box office a few weeks ago and is now available to rent or purchase on Apple TV, Prime Video, and other streaming services worldwide.
Based from the single chapter The Captain’s Log from the original Dracula novel by Bram Stoker, The Last Voyage of the Demeter tells the story of an ill-fated ship and its skeleton crew who unknowingly transport Dracula from his home in Transylvania to London. In the original novel, it was crucial backstory; here, writers Zak Olkewicz (Bullet Train) Bragi F. Schut (Escape Room) transform it into Alien on a Victorian-era ship.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter stars Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton) as Clemens, a Cambridge-educated doctor who finds himself scrounging for seafaring work in Bulgaria’s Port of Varna. He’s initially rejected by the Demeter’s first mate Wojchek (David Dastmalchian), but finds himself aboard after a Romani crewman recognizes the mark of Dracula and abandons ship before it sets sail.
(Side note: Dastmalchian’s character is a nod the the titular character played by Klaus Kinski in Woyzeck, which director Werner Herzog and Kinski shot in the Czech town of Telč almost immediately after wrapping production on 1979’s Nosferatu the Vampyre. Dracula’s look here, too, appears to ber inspired by the Herzog film.)
The Demeter is captained by Captain Elliot (Game of Thrones‘ Liam Cunningham), whose young grandson Toby (Cobweb‘s Woody Norman) happens to be tagging along for the ride. Additional crew members represent a ragtag group of disparate characters played by Jon Jon Briones, Stefan Kapicic, Chris Walley, Martin Furulund, and Nikolai Nikolaeff, each of whom are ill-defined beyond being vampire victims.
Things start to go south with the appearance of Anna (Aisling Franciosi), whom the crew identify as a stowaway despite clearly having emerged from one of the strange crates filled with dirt the ship happens to be carrying. Clemens somehow identifies that she’s been infected and can only be saved by blood transfusion, and accidentally cures her of vampirism.
What ensues is a cat-and-mouse game between Dracula, who’s been deprived of one of his well-packed snacks (what’s in all the other crates, we wonder?) and the crew members, who he begins picking off one-by-one every night. There are hints of discord between the crew as they blame each other for the tragic voyage – the stuff that could have made a compelling narrative – but the focus is too soon and too heavily placed on the supernatural.
At a certain point, the characters are aware that Dracula is on the Demeter, and they even know that he can’t come out during the day, lest he burst into flames. And this ship is not inscrutably large. And yet we see them in scene after scene casually and half-heartedly searching the ship during the day for the monster that is eating them at night, never bothering to open those massive crates in the cargo hold.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter is competently put together by director André Øvredal (Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark), elegantly shot by Tom Stern (Changeling), bolstered by an atmospheric score from Bear McCreary, and yet it’s inexplicably, undeniably dull. This kind of decently-budgeted, serious-minded horror film is a rare event, but this one a real missed opportunity.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is about evil in all of its forms, from the evil that lurks in the unknown to the seductive evil within our own hearts, and the courage it takes to overcome that evil. In The Last Voyage of the Demeter, meanwhile, Dracula is a mere monster, an animal driven by hunger, and one we understand all too well.
One of the themes of this movie is the struggle of Hawkins’ character to understand a world that does not makes sense to him, of arbitrary rights and wrongs that do not lead to satisfying existence. The Last Voyage of the Demeter, too, struggles to comprehend a timeless text that has been adapted to great acclaim on numerous occasions, and reduces its impact to a mild diversion.