THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER
August 11, 2023 / Universal Pictures Canada
Corey Hawkins, Aisling Franciosi, Liam Cunningham, David Dastmalchian, Jon Jon Briones, Stefan Kapicic, Nikolai Nikolaeff, Javier Botet
Based on a single chilling chapter from Bram Stoker’s classic novel Dracula, The Last Voyage of the Demeter tells the terrifying story of the merchant ship Demeter, which was chartered to carry private cargo—50 unmarked wooden crates—from Carpathia to London.
Strange events befall the doomed crew as they attempt to survive the ocean voyage, stalked each night by a merciless presence onboard the ship. Killing their livestock, stalking those on board, and attempting to bring them down, Dracula haunts the ship. When the Demeter finally arrives off the shores of England, it is a charred, derelict wreck, with no trace of the crew.
Written By Darren
Rating 3 out of 5
The Last Voyage of the Demeter benefits from an unsettling atmosphere perfect to bring this chapter of Dracula to life on the big screen under the great direction of André Øvredal and bolstered by an exquisite musical score from Bear McCreary, but the film’s narrative and pacing holds it back from being the exceptional horror film it had the potential to be.
There have been countless iterations of Dracula gracing the silver screen for decades, from the faithful adaptations like Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, films inspired by the Bram Stoker’s classic novel like 2022’s The Invitation, to truly wild modernizations of the character such as Nicolas Cage’s incredibly campy portrayal in this year’s Renfield. Though, no film adaptations have spent much time focusing on Dracula’s voyage from Romania to England. Faithful adaptations of Stoker’s novel touch upon this chapter, but it’s normally covered in a scene or two… until now. Setting this Dracula adaptation apart from all others is that it is an adaptation of the chapter of the novel focusing on the voyage of the Demeter as Dracula makes passage to England, expanding it to fully explore the horrors that occurred aboard the Demeter. And while the film has the right artistic vision to do this chapter justice, heralding back to older creature flicks, it takes too long to get interesting which buries the intensity and stakes, resulting in a decent film that does not live up to Dracula’s legendary pedigree.
While sailing from Romania to England transporting cargo, the crew of the Demeter discovers that there is something very dangerous being transported aboard their ship. As the journey continues, the crew finds themselves in a fight for survival against an ancient and unimaginable evil hungry and determined to make it to England undetected at any cost.
Narratively, the film takes a big swing by only focusing on one chapter of Dracula. And while there is no doubt that it is more than enough narrative to flesh out an entire feature film, the film overstays its welcome. The first act drags on for too long, making the audience wait for Dracula to appear on screen, which is fine, but at the same time there is not enough narrative for the crew members of the Demeter to sustain the slower first act. This does not set up for a strong second and third act, as there is no emotional connection to the characters as Dracula slowly picks them off one by one, making each kill slightly underwhelming from a narrative point of view. While you know the characters are about to die at any moment, you never for a second fear for their survival nor get distraught when a victim is claimed, but instead sit contently in your seat waiting for Dracula to claim his next victim. And with a run time of almost two hours, the film runs too long and could have benefited greatly from being approximately twenty minutes shorter to keep the tension building more consistent and quicker. Luckily, the film boasts a good lead cast of Corey Hawkins, Liam Cunningham, David Dastmalchian and Aisling Franciosi, who all give solid performances that help compensate for the film’s lacking story.
Where the film thrives is in its direction and the overall atmosphere it generates. Under the direction of André Øvredal, it's a throwback to the creature films of the 70s and 80s, at times reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s Alien but on a ship rather than a spaceship. Once Dracula is loose, Øvredal slowly builds the tension within each scene to send chills down your spine as you watch Dracula trap his next victim. The cinematography engulfs the majority of the film in shadows, ensuring that there is lots unseen to help build the tension, while utilizing the storm the Demeter is caught in to have lightning strikes create a natural strobe light effect to tease the danger lurking behind the characters. It’s a claustrophobic feeling that is generated throughout the film, creating an enticing visual experience that is matched by impressive set design. The actual creature design for Dracula is great, putting an emphasis on prosthetics and makeup design rather than CGI, to create a truly menacing Nosferatu version of the character to be the deadly predator of the film. Through all these elements, Øvredal flexes his directorial efforts to create an effective horror experience, even if his talent is not matched by the film’s story.
Helping to create the dread and danger of the crossing of the Demeter is Bear McCreary’s exceptional musical score. Infusing every scene with a sense of danger, urgency and mystery, McCreary creates a symphonic soundscape that is the standout element of the film. From the energetic main theme, heavy on percussion and forceful down beats, to the quieter, eerie themes, there is not a scene where McCreary does not fully capture the atmosphere of the film and take it to the next level through his compositions.
Dracula films will continue to be made for decades to come, because there are few horror characters more iconic than the legendary vampire. And while The Last Voyage of the Demeter attempts to create a bold new cinematic experience featuring the infamous bloodsucker, the story never matches the chilling creature feature that the rest of the production conjures up. While director André Øvredal has crafted a meticulous production of striking cinematography, impressive sets and a wonderful musical score from Bear McCreary that creates the perfect horror atmosphere for Dracula to claim his victims in, the undercooked screenplay and slow start to The Last Voyage of the Demeter holds the film back from being the next great Dracula film.