Director André Øvredal takes inspiration from Bram Stoker’s classic novel and expands it into a haunting maritime horror story in The Last Voyage of the Demeter. This film dives deep into a single chapter of Stoker’s work, chronicling Count Dracula’s voyage from Transylvania to England. Øvredal’s storytelling prowess brings to life a rain-soaked nightmare of missing crewmen, torn necks, and the suffocating isolation of the ship. The movie embraces a broody, Hammer-esque atmosphere with thick layers of dread, providing a chilling addition to the Dracula lore found within the dimly lit decks and cargo hold of the Demeter.
Well-Developed Protagonists and Atmospheric Performances
Writers Bragi F. Schut, Stefan Ruzowitzky, and Zak Olkewicz introduce well-rounded protagonists like Clemens, a Cambridge graduate played by Corey Hawkins, and Wojchek, a gruff second mate portrayed by David Dastmalchian. These characters, who are usually faceless in the source material, evoke sympathy from the audience. The ensemble cast, including Liam Cunningham as Captain Eliot and Aisling Franciosi as the mysterious stowaway Anna, fits perfectly into Øvredal’s doomy, gloomy moonlit world, paralyzed by the looming presence of a gangly figure hiding in the shadows.
Famed creature actor Javier Botet delivers a chilling portrayal of Dracula, referred to as “The Evil” by his unsuspecting shipmates. Botet’s performance draws inspiration from F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu and Tobe Hooper’s Salem’s Lot miniseries, presenting a vile bloodsucker that commands fear and invites the audience to cower in his presence. The bat-like features further emphasize the animalistic and menacing nature of Dracula.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter is sea-sickeningly claustrophobic.
The film conveys a sense of ongoing distress through the turbulent waters that rock the Demeter. The ship becomes a perilous place even without the addition of a murderous vampire. Øvredal’s skillful direction pays tribute to the classic Universal Monsters films, utilizing lightning bolts to illuminate scenes of prolonged dread and extracting fear from the helplessness of being adrift with one of horror’s most iconic figures. While Cunningham’s stoic narration and the crew’s petrified performances create a claustrophobic atmosphere, sustaining the level of paranoia for nearly two hours becomes an uphill battle. However, The Last Voyage of the Demeter remains faithful to Stoker’s original vision, preserving every aspect of the cursed Transylvanian soil and delivering performances fueled by survival urgency.
Reigniting the Slow-Burn Torment
The movie’s second act struggles to maintain its gripping nature due to the confined narrative that follows Stoker’s punchy entries in a captain’s log. While attempts are made to raise the stakes through the introduction of an underage livestock handler and Clemens’ experiences with Victorian-era racism, the predator-prey dynamic remains the primary focus. Although familiarity is often the film’s ally, there are moments when the cast attempts to generate suspense in scenes where the presence of a vampire is painfully obvious, causing brief lapses in tension.
Computer animation steps in for practical craftsmanship that would look infinitely sharper.
Minor quibbles aside, The Last Voyage of the Demeter thrives in its role as a horror time capsule, providing a platform for actors like Dastmalchian and Hawkins to pay homage to the theatrical genre films of the past, relying on performance rather than visual trickery. Øvredal skillfully combines Old English verbiage and vampire mythology, unearthing buried treasures while occasionally evoking the spirit of Tod Browning. While the excitement may simmer for longer than desired, when the director unleashes his creature of the night, it is a moment that truly resonates.