There’s a reason why so many thrillers and horror movies are set on ships. They are, in a way, like floating prisons. Once a ship sets out to sea, there really is nowhere to go. This is especially true back in the 1890s when all sea voyage was dangerous, and even some of the ways to make it safer were ALSO dangerous. Myth and mystery surrounded the sea, as you were completely at the whims of the wind and the creatures that lurk beneath the water’s edge. It’s a perfect time and setting for The Last Voyage of the Demeter, a gory but ultimately formulaic horror yarn that expands on the “Log of the Demeter” chapter in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
The premise is a nifty way to tell a Dracula story that is different from the many big-screen iterations out there already, and is a damn sight better than a bad comedy like Renfield. In The Last Voyage of the Demeter, an unsuspecting crew set sail from Romania to a port town in England, carrying 50 mysterious crates from an unknown shipper. Unfortunately for the crew, one of those crates contains a sleeping Dracula, who periodically emerges to do what vampires do…feast on the blood of the living.
Trapped on this floating all-you-can-eat buffet are Captain Eliot (Liam Cunningham), a grizzled seadog making his final voyage before retirement. Isn’t that always the way? His first mate Wojcheck (David Dastmalchian) is a wary sort, eager to throw anyone overboard who doesn’t earn their keep. That goes double for the latest member, learned doctor Clemens (Corey Hawkins), who has more than one strike against him. The times being what they are, being a Black man has earned him no friends or business opportunties. The salty Demeter men aren’t too fond of him, either. There’s also Toby (Woody Norman), a young boy under the care of Captain Eliot. And a stowaway, Anna (Aisling Franciosi), found stuffed into one of Dracula’s crates where she was being used as his personal feedbag.
Norwegian director André Øvredal is best known for horrors with a fantastical edge, such as Trollhunters and Scary Movies to Tell in the Dark. He’s clearly having a blast indulging in the rainy, nocturnal setting, filling the screen with shadows from which Dracula can stalk. The atmosphere is skincrawling even as the kills themselves become repetitive. It’s just the nature of the story that things get predictable in the way Dracula hunts and picks off each member of the crew. However, one can’t help but feel the tension of being trapped on this creaky, haunting vessel. Even if Dracula wasn’t a predator lurking, the Demeter would be creepy all by itself.
Stacking up the body count is Dracula, and Øvredal is wise to keep him largely out of frame, a monster lurking in the ocean mist, hiding behind the sound of crashing waves. This is the animalistic version of Dracula, the one that is more feral beast than any sort of man, and he strikes an imposing image when fully revealed.
While the film largely sticks to Dracula lore faithfully, the conclusion feels like studio-mandated nonsense designed to launch a franchise. There’s a bit of cleverness in the way it skirts around the book’s grim outcome, but The Last Voyage of the Demeter is best as a bloody, brutal one-way trip that puts Dracula at the center of his own slasher movie.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter opens in theaters on August 11th.