This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER being covered here wouldn’t exist.
Dracula is arguably the most adapted vampire tale in history. Taken apart, re-assembled, and given new life, his story has been dissected and explored since the dawn of cinema. What hasn’t been tackled is the seventh chapter of Dracula. Taken from the Captain’s log, we learn that the Demeter is the vessel that delivers the famed vampire to English waters, with the crew nowhere to be found. In THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER, we get to see this doomed voyage fleshed out. The question is does the film sink or stay afloat?
A film that’s taken over twenty years to see the big screen, THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER is directed by André Øvredal, from a script by Bragi F. Schut, Stefan Ruzowitzky, and Zak Olkewicz. A bleak horror that snuffs out hope at every turn, the film is mostly contained on the Demeter – rightfully so. However, the time is taken first to establish a crew of men.
Aiming to sail his final voyage as captain before retirement is Captain Elliot (Liam Cunningham), who plans to take his grandson Toby (Woody Norman) with him. The Demeter’s first mate Wojchek (David Dastmalchian) is stern and set in his ways, helping with the tension when butting heads against the new addition to their ship, Doctor Clemens (Corey Hawkins). Filling out the rest of the crew are Olgaren (Stefan Kapicic), Joseph (Jon Jon Briones), Larsen (Martin Furulund), Abrams (Chris Walley), and Petrofsky (Nikolai Nikolaeff), with all actors bouncing off of each other with the natural camaraderie expected in this tight-knit crew.
The natural horror of isolation
When things start to go bump in the night, the audience knows what’s coming. The expectation of everyone’s demise has been built in. And this iteration of Dracula loves to play a game of cat and mouse. Making use of the turbulent sea and the natural defenseless the sailors face on deck, Øvredal sets up scares to keep us on our toes. Just because we know what’s coming doesn’t mean that we can’t still be spooked. Enhancing all performances and scenic shots is the practical sets production designer Edward Thomas and his team built to aid in authenticity. That is an actual boat you see them operating on, which is pretty cool to see.
When the kills come in, Øvredal goes there. Decisions are made that will send ripples down the spine but also highlight the unrelenting hopelessness of the situation. Trapped on open water with no one to aid them but a silent, impotent Catholic God – an element that is subtly touched upon all throughout THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER – all anyone can do is watch and wait for what comes next – Dracula.
Played by Javier Botet, a familiar in the horror monster realm, we watch as his body contorts and lengthens throughout the journey. He stalks, menaces, and sadistically taunts his prey. Not just a beast, he derives pleasure from stoking the fears of the crew. Aided by Göran Lundström’s creature design, reminding of Nosferatu and Salem’s Lot, Jörn Seifert’s SFX make-up application, and with a little help from CGI, any trace of humanity is stripped from this Dracula. And Botet relishes in the creature’s evil.
THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER strong until the end
While the crew is mostly there to get chomped, that’s not enough to drive a story forward. No, this is where Doctor Clemmons and reluctant stowaway, Anna (Aisling Franciosi), comes in. A man of science, Hawkins keeps his Clemmons grounded in his pursuit of understanding. Dracula presents an ample challenge. Aided by Anna, who provides a lot of the context behind the creature’s actions and patterns, they both take action that propels us forward before the winds snuff out the sails of this venture.
Unfortunately, the run time and final minutes of THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER undercut the full impact the horror could have had. There is one particular shot toward the end that would have been a perfect stopping point for the film. Emotionally breathtaking and poignant, there’s a question as to why the writers decided to tack on more. The ending we get reads as a pitch for future films, which spits in the face of that tone of finality that the seventh chapter possesses. Had the final couple of minutes been cut, THE LAST VOYAGE would have been perfect.
A bleak horror that snuffs out hope at every turn, THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER embraces Dracula’s evil to the highest degree. This is a cruel, gleefully vindictive monster that takes pleasure in playing with its food. However, we’re not watching one-dimensional characters get picked off here. Each crew member of the Demeter, regardless of screentime, is fully fleshed out. While some deserve death over others, we know them, feel for them, and are with them as any semblance of hope is murdered. That is the power of this film.
THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER arrives in theaters on August 11, 2023.
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