The Last Voyage of the Demeter (2023)

by - August 11th, 2023 - Movie Reviews


Last Voyage of the Demeter Sets Sail into Vampiric Terror

July 1897: Under the command of the stoic Captain Eliot (Liam Cunningham), the trade ship the Demeter is leaving a Romanian port bound for London carrying a mysterious, if potentially profitable, cargo: 50 heavy crates bearing the crest of a dragon. This is going to be Eliot’s final turn at the helm, as the veteran seaman is looking to retire to the Scottish countryside with his grandson Toby (Woody Norman) and turn over this great ship to his trusted — and beloved by the crew — second-in-command, Wojcheck (David Dastmalchian).

The Last Voyage of the Demeter (2023) | PHOTO: Universal Pictures

Unfortunately, this will be no ordinary voyage. Not only has the Demeter brought on a new doctor, the tightlipped Clemens (Corey Hawkins), but a deathly ill young woman named Anna (Aisling Franciosi) has apparently stowed away in one of those puzzling crates, covered in dirt and in desperate need of a blood transfusion. The crew initially wants to throw the woman overboard, seeing her arrival as an ill omen.

But she is the least of the Demeter’s worries. There’s a third newcomer aboard, and this creature comes out at night and consumes blood — human blood in particular — and unless the ship’s crew does something about it, none of them will make it to London alive.

The final destination of the Demeter and its crew will not shock anyone. Heck, it’s right there in the film’s title: The Last Voyage of the Demeter, which is based on a short passage from Bram Stoker’s immortal Dracula. Dracula is sleeping in one of those crates filled with diseased earth, and this means Captain Eliot and his men are facing off against an unstoppable evil none of them have the first clue how to deal with.

Thanks to a crackerjack ensemble, André Øvredal’s confidently deft direction, and a smart, literately inventive screenplay written by Bragi F. Schut (Escape Room) and Zak Olkewicz (Fear Street: Part II – 1978), this highly enjoyable horror throwback satisfies, even with its inevitable outcome. It’s like an inspired cross between a Universal monster movie from Hollywood’s golden age, a Terence Fisher Hammer entry from the 1960s, Ridley Scott’s Alien, and Peter Weir’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the Sea. The film is a great deal of insidious fun, and I have a sneaky suspicion that my fondness for it will only grow as I return to it again and again over the coming years.

Most of the focus is on the characters not found in Stoker’s source material, and this allows for a moderate aura of ambiguity. Even if the tragedy of the Demeter is preordained, because the fates of Clemens, Anna, and Toby are not already known, there is a fighting chance one (or all of them) could make it to the end alive. This allows for a modicum of suspense I did not anticipate. I cared about what was going to happen to them, and my emotional investment in the trio was authentically substantive.

Yet, much like James Cameron’s Titanic, just because the fates of these characters is a forgone conclusion, that did not stop me from rooting for their survival. While Eliot and Wojcheck understandably stand out the most, the entire crew manages to make an impression. Øvredal does a nice job of giving these men individual voices, so by the time Dracula starts picking them off or bending them to his carnivorous will, their deaths have a hushed weightiness that intensifies the overwhelming sense of petrifying panic considerably.

The creature design for Dracula is nothing short of outstanding. The practical makeup effects allow this unholy vampiric demon to come spectacularly alive. He’s a superb combination of Max Schreck’s incarnation from 1922’s Nosferatu, Klaus Kinski’s take from 1979’s Nosferatu the Vampire, and Gary Oldman’s brief incarnation in 1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Under all of the layers of latex and rain-drenched goop, veteran actor Javier Botet (It, Crimson Peak, REC) delivers another outstanding performance, making his Dracula a memorable, throat-ripping devil whose power to entrance and terrify only grows as the film builds to its conclusion.

The Last Voyage of the Demeter (2023) | PHOTO: Universal Pictures

There are sequences where Øvredal dips into the CG bag to allow Dracula to zip around the screen or contort his carnivorous features into an otherworldly, unhuman shape. These moments do not work nearly as well as the practical ones. They have a digital shimmer that does not quite mesh with the wickedly lithe cinematography by Tom Stern (American Sniper), the grounded, suitably withered production design crafted by genre veteran Edward Thomas (Monster Hunter), or the inventively distressed and disheveled costume designs by Carlo Poggioli (The Raven).

These are small complaints. With Troll Hunter, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Øvredal is quickly proving himself to be a master of old-school thrills and chills. He gives his actors the freedom to make each character moment their own, knows how to manufacture spine-tingling sensations of anxiety with subtle ease, and casts a spell upon the audience that will send them out of the theater on an adrenaline-filled high. All of this is certainly the case here, making The Last Voyage of the Demeter a journey into tension-filled dread and a suitably undead nightmare worth setting sail on.

Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)

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