Seeing the vampire Dracula brings to mind Nosferatu for many, but Gollum springs to mind, too. The Last Voyage of the Demeter is a good film. It just doesn’t do more. Its cinematography is impressive, sacrifices character and plot. The few pieces of character development feel shoehorned in rather than a natural offshoot of conversation. Still, if you love vampires and hope for a monster-verse with some beloved beasties, there is potential. The Last Voyage of the Demeter may entice hardcore vampire fans with its gorgeous visuals and creepy moments.
From Bram Stoker’s classic Dracula, the film covers a chapter discussing the occurrences on the Demeter—the ship transporting Dracula to England. Directed by André Øvredal and written by Bragi F. Schut and Zak Olkewicz, it starts with the crew of the Demeter preparing to leave Carpathia after loading cargo. But they’re short a crew member and try to recruit others. Enter Clemens (Corey Hawkins), who the first mate, Wojchek (David Dastmalchian), turns away. They let him sail after Clemens saves Captain Eliot’s (Liam Cunningham) grandson, Toby (Woody Norman). But something else is aboard.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter Struggles to Build Tension and Gorgeous Cinematography
It’s not all the film’s fault, but the tension falters. The buildup to Dracula’s reveal is amazing though. The claustrophobic conditions with a monster on board do build pressure. But part of the issue is that anyone who reads Stoker’s book knows how Demeter’s trip ends—the movie does take liberties here. On top of that, the largest issue some might find is the appearance of Dracula. Without practical effects, the monster loses some fear. With CGI, Dracula has an unrealistic glossiness that detracts from the gritty terror. So, it’s hard to feel the stakes at times.
Horror films need to return to the effect that adds the element of possibility. No one’s afraid of CGI and a green screen. Dracula also spends a lot of time on his haunches. So, The Lord of the Rings—Gollum—springs to mind rather than Dracula or Nosferatu. Granted, the kills are great. Lurky Dracula is reminiscent of Alien. The film also commits to deaths few horror films do. But again, there would be more impact with practical effects. The visuals of the sea and storms are phenomenal. The Last Voyage of the Demeter is a visually arresting horror film.
Acting Hooks You Into Life on the Seas
The performances all work—from some of the annoying crew members to the friendship between Clemens and Toby. Thanks to Corey Hawkins and Woody Norman’s performances, moments hit harder. Clemens’ exposition dump about his past felt jammed into a scene rather than a natural progression of the moment, but acting all-around is solid. Besides, it’s all about the battle in a vampire flick like this. But The Last Voyage of the Demeter makes audiences care about some characters more than others, such as Clemens, Toby, and Anna.
Stowaway Anna (Aisling Franciosi) has scenes where she discloses her past, but they also feel mistimed or flat. Her acting is solid; you root for most of these characters to survive while knowing the Demeter’s fate. While I adored Liam Cunningham in The Game of Thrones, the script in this movie gives him little to work with. So, it’s hard to feel for him except as Toby’s grandfather. Aside from some character interactions, the most engaging aspect was the rules of ship life and the superstitious beliefs.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter tries building tension without relying on jump scares. There are moments for viewers to yell at the screen, laugh, and shudder. Vampire horror is a weak spot for me, and I’ve yet to see one I did not enjoy, so this is a fun time for me. Hopefully, films return to either practical monster effects or not revealing the monster. While not the best vampire film, its phenomenal visuals, cast, and tense moments make The Last Voyage of the Demeter worth watching.
*This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.