The Last Voyage Of The Demeter Review: A Dracula Murder Mystery... Minus The Mystery

 Liam Cunningham and Corey Hawkins in The Last Voyage Of The Demeter
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At the core of director André Øvredal’s The Last Voyage Of The Demeter is a story concept with a strong and captivating beginning and ending. Based on a tiny segment in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it starts with the king of vampires being loaded on to a fully crewed ship bound for England, and it concludes with said ship arriving at its destination without a single human survivor. With that intriguing setup and dark conclusion, what still remains is the need for the filmmakers to create a meaty middle – one with rich characters whom we care about as they are methodically slain by a blood-sucking monster.

The Last Voyage Of The Demeter

David Dastmalchian in The Last Voyage of the Demeter
David Dastmalchian in The Last Voyage of the Demeter

Release Date: August 11, 2023
Directed By:
André Øvredal
Written By: Bragi Schut, Jr. and Zak Olkewicz
Corey Hawkins, Aisling Franciosi, Liam Cunningham, and David Dastmalchian
Rated R for bloody violence
119 minutes

Unfortunately, the film – based on a screenplay by Bragi Schut, Jr. and Zak Olkewicz – is unable to deliver those vital components, and the end result is a repetitive and dull horror movie with little more going for it than a moderately interesting feral approach to its legendary vampire.. The ferocity of Dracula increases over the course of the movie as he is made stronger with each victim he takes, though that idea fails to translate into escalating stakes, and without interesting personalities to invest in, the whole ride actually gets duller as the titular vessel gets ever closer to its terminus.

Set in 1897, The Voyage Of The Demeter begins as Captain Eliot (Liam Cunningham) plans to sail his cargo ship from Romania to England, and while the planned transportation of a box with a dragon symbol on it ends up scaring off some of his hired help, Eliot finds a volunteer replacement in a doctor named Clemens (Corey Hawkins). The boat launches with a small crew including Eliot’s first mate, Wojchek (David Dastmalchian), a cabin boy (Woody Norman), a cook (Jon Jon Briones) and a few strong hands (Stefan Kapiĉić, Nikolai Nikolaef, Martin Furulund, Chris Walley), but also aboard is a mysterious stowaway named Anna (Aisling Franciosi) and the hungry, vicious fiend known as Dracula (Javier Botet).

Tensions rise as people start going missing and turn up dead, and as the protagonists slowly begin to realize what they are up against, they must not only try to protect themselves, but also figure out what to do about the creature before arriving in England.

The bland collection of characters in The Voyage Of The Demeter prevents engagement in the story.

The plot setup in The Voyage Of The Demeter is not unlike an Agatha Christie novel, with an ensemble getting trapped together and methodically killed off… but the key component that’s missing is the mystery. We know whodunit (Dracula); we know howdoneit (exsanguination); and we know whydoneit (he’s hungry). We even know that the monster will definitely survive. With all of those questions off the table and unavailable to draw audiences into the movie, what’s left is for the filmmakers to get us to really care about the doomed characters aboard the eponymous boat, and that ends up being the feature’s greatest failure.

The movie certainly has likable and talented performers, but too many of them blend together with similar perspectives, backgrounds and attitudes, and everyone else is each given one (1) unique quality that they must cling to like a life preserver (Eliot is a caring grandfather to the ship’s cabin boy; Wojchek is devoted to the sea; Anna, a Romanian, knows the stories of Dracula; etc.). The one exception to this is Clemens… but his backstory is only revealed shortly before the third act climax, and by then it’s too little, too late. There is nothing provided helps us forget or care that basically everyone is going to end up as vampire food, and that motivates disengagement with everything that’s going on. It’s an energy reminiscent of the middle chapters in the Friday The 13th franchise.

There are far too few scary scenes in The Voyage Of The Demeter, and they are repetitive.

If we did care about the lives of the characters, that would also help mitigate The Voyage Of The Demeter’s other paramount issue: flat horror action. One of the best aspects of the film is witnessing the evolution of Dracula, as the his appearance and abilities change as he regularly feasts on the crew (the work of limber performer Javier Botet and the production’s makeup department deserve high praise), but that doesn’t extended to variety in his attacks/diversity in the way in which the movie tries to deliver scares. With its familiar creature (who can only attack at night) and tight confines in the setting, opportunities aren’t robust to mix things up, so even with plenty of bloodletting the experience gets tired as it closes out the second hour of its runtime.

Had it worked to keep its connection to Bram Stoker’s novel a secret (adding a mystery to the plotting) or made a more significant effort to change up vampire lore, The Voyage Of The Demeter is a movie that could have had something going for it, but it misses the swings that it takes. It’s dull, dark, uninspired, and while bloody, it’s certainly not scary. Between this film and Chris McKay’s Renfield, Dracula is having a rough 2023.