In theaters on August 11th, ‘The Last Voyage of the Demeter’ wades into full-on horror territory by taking a chapter of Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ and fleshing (also blooding) out the story into a full-length film that features an entertaining creature but is somewhat let down by a cliché-heavy screenplay.
What’s the story of ‘The Last Voyage of the Demeter’?
The movie follows the strange and horrifying events that befall the doomed crew as they attempt to survive the ocean voyage of the Demeter from Transylvania to London, stalked each night by a merciless presence onboard the ship: a legendary vampire known as Dracula.
When the Demeter finally arrives off the shores of England, it is a charred, derelict wreck. There is no trace of the crew. So… Spoiler alert, we suppose?
Who is starring in ‘The Last Voyage of the Demeter’?
‘The Last Voyage of the Demeter’ stars Corey Hawkins as Clemens, a doctor who joins the Demeter, Aisling Franciosi as Anna, an unwitting stowaway, Liam Cunningham as Captain Elliot, David Dastmalchian as Wojchek, the Demeter’s first mate and Javier Botet as Dracula.
Does ‘The Last Voyage of the Demeter’ successfully get its teeth into the story?
In development for more than 20 years, ‘The Last Voyage of the Demeter’ began life with writer Bragi F. Schut Jr., who, inspired by a model of the ship created by someone he knew for Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Dracula’ adaptation, and by the chapter of Stoker’s novel called ‘The Captain’s Log’, began writing what is effectively a version of ‘Alien’ set at sea.
In the decades since the original draft, it has gone through many writers and directors, and has ended up in the hands of director André Øvredal, while Schut scored a script credit alongside Zak Olkewicz, who wrote the screenplays for ‘Bullet Train’ and one of Netflix’s ‘Fear Street’ films. And if you were at all annoyed by the seemingly spoilerific synopsis, it’s worth pointing out that A) Stoker’s novel has been around a while; B) the villain is Dracula, and even casual horror fans know he ends up reaching England to continue his bloodsucking ways and C), a title card and the movie’s very opening confirms that the Demeter ends up wrecked and abandoned on the coast of the country.
The challenge, then, is making the journey a worthwhile one, even if you know it has a downbeat ending (the movie attempts to leaven that in ways we won’t explore, because those are actual spoilers).
Øvredal is a solid choice for a movie of this nature, and indeed he brings a lot of atmospheric creepiness to the story, his Demeter a dark, creaking, dripping, groaning setting frequently shot in shadow or lit by dim lantern light.
The director’s other smart choice was relying primarily on physical performance to bring Dracula to life. Hiring flexible, talented creature performer Javier Botet (who has frightened audiences in movies such as ‘Crimson Peak’, ‘The Conjuring 2’ and Øvredal’s own ‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’) ensures the creature of the night feels like a creature. And, starting out like a toothier version of Gollum, sunken and weakened by his lack of access to blood, this beast evolves as he is able to snack on the crew, becoming something more monstrous as he goes.
His targets are a mixed bunch in terms of what they are given to do, but the standouts are Liam Cunningham as the stalwart captain who faces personal tragedy, David Dastmalchian as the grouchy First Mate and Aisling Franciosi, a mysterious stowaway who has her own connection to the fanged fiend.
Where does the movie sink?
Given its long journey to the screen, you might have expected ‘Demeter’ to sail more nimbly clear of cliches, but unfortunately, that’s simply not the case.
Though Øvredal certainly fills it with the right amount of dread and stormy weather, the story itself starts to tick off all the standard, expected beats and elements of a movie such as this. Granted, it’s adapting a slim chapter of a book written more than a hundred years ago, but you might hope for a little more invention given all the tools at the filmmakers’ disposal.
Instead, we’re greeted with the usual screechy violins on the score, pauses before jump scares and a bunch of stock seamen who, charitably, you should not bother getting to know very well. Aside from a few stabs at character development, Dracula works his way through the lower ranks before getting to the recognizable name actors in a fashion that –– while it is partly explained away by the vampire rationing the crew so as to have enough human blood to feast on for the whole trip –– does rather deflate the tension in places, as you just wait for the next highest-ranking sailor to have a fateful date with fanged destiny.
Plus, there are the inescapable hallmarks that sometimes make the movie feel like a parody of a horror film –– when a guy with a scarred face and a milky eye walks off your ship talking of bad omens because he saw a logo on a crate, you know this isn’t going to be a pleasure cruise.
Add to that the trouble that Corey Hawkins has with his accent. Hawkins is an accomplished actor, who has put in good work in the likes of ‘Straight Outta Compton’, ‘Black KkKlansman’ and ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’, but here he sounds like his voice is on a walking tour of the British Isles, his dialect fluctuating sometimes in the same sentence. It’s distracting and detracts from one of the few truly effective characters in the movie.
That, and a few frustrating examples of terrible decision-making from the onscreen crew (do you really go looking for where the creature, already established as one who hunts at night is lurking under cover of darkness?) don’t help, but ‘Demeter’ is able to sail past them and works as a decent enough horror movie with some very classic trappings, for good and ill.
‘The Last Voyage of the Demeter’ receives 7 out of 10 stars.