The Last Voyage of the Demeter raises solid B horror from the grave

The Last Voyage of the Demeter

Javier Botet skillfully embodies a cunning Orlokian Dracula in André Øvredal’s enjoyably vicious horrorshow.

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.

The Last Voyage of the Demeter feels like a movie from a different era. To a point, it is—writer Bragi Schut first drafted his adaptation of the ‘Log of the “Demeter”‘ sequence in Bram Stoker’s Dracula in the early 2000s. It’s a capital letters Hollywood Creature Feature—a grimmer straight horror cousin to 2004’s action/horror hybrid Van Helsing. At its best, it’s an admirably gnarly monster flick—bolstered by sturdy craft from director André Øvredal and consistently good performances from a game ensemble. At its worst, it loses confidence and resorts to bumbling attempts to guide its audience by the hand—most notably in its prologue and epilogue.

Both in-story and in craft, The Last Voyage of the Demeter gets off to a shaky start, combining morose narration from Liam Cunningham’s Captain Eliot with a genuinely baffling title card that amounts to “Apparently everyone aboard this mysteriously ruined ship died horribly, and also this is based on a chapter of Dracula.” The tone of Eliot’s logs (which continue throughout) doesn’t quite gel with the tones of the movie and Cunningham’s performance elsewhere—it’s fatalistic and terrified, certainly, but it’s both more sedate and more melodramatic than Demeter’s tone otherwise. Consequently, it’s distracting throughout.

And the title card? It’s genuinely flummoxing, attempting to build mood only to veer abruptly into crediting its source material. As a comics dweeb, I’m always happy to see an adaptation name its parent work and creators, but The Last Voyage of the Demeter’s credit 1) does so after beginning as an in-story piece of scene setting and 2) doesn’t name Bram Stoker. It is not 1922. The Last Voyage of the Demeter is not Nosferatu. And Stoker is as iconic a name in horror as Dracula. So why not name him alongside his most famous creation? An in-story title card or a “Based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula” title card could have built up the picture’s mood. This strange Frankensteined whatsit, by contrast, brings it to a shrieking halt—condescending to the audience all the while.

The Last Voyage of the Demeter
The Last Voyage of the Demeter, Universal

Fortunately, once The Last Voyage of the Demeter moves past its prologue, it improves significantly. Øvredal swiftly introduces the doomed ship (well-loved, even with its rats, and prone to echoing—a darn good set all told) and her crew—among them overall lead and newly-joined sailor Clemens (Corey Hawkins); a Black, Cambridge-educated doctor traveling the world in the hopes that he might come to understand humanity’s simultaneous beauty and beastliness, first mate Wojcheck (David Dastmalchian); a lifelong sailor whose pride in his ability has long curdled into contempt for anyone he deems too soft for the seas, and cabin boy/Captain Eliot’s grandson Toby (Woody Norman); a sweet-hearted kid who may have had to grow up too fast.

Unbeknownst to the Demeter’s crew, two more souls join them for their ride to London. One is a severely traumatized, inexplicably anemic Romani woman named Anna (Aisling Franciosi), who Clemens discovers when one of the dragon-marked crates the Demeter is running to England breaks open. The other is Dracula (Javier Botet, a longtime creature actor whose performances include turns in Øvredal’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Star Trek, and the Muschietti It duo), an unspeakably evil monster who does not belong in the world of the living.

The Last Voyage of the Demeter’s cast does strong work throughout. Hawkins is a likable lead. Clemens is profoundly compassionate and steely, moved to do right for his own sake—for his need to make the world make sense—as much as he is for goodness’. Franciosi is a compelling deuteragonist. Free from the haze of Dracula’s control and feeding for the first time in who knows how long, Anna rediscovers herself amidst the crisis—growing steadily more determined to stand against the evil who’s dominated her people for generations. Hawkins and Franciosi work well together, and their characters’ built-on-care chemistry proves a fine emotional core as the picture ramps up its intensity.

The Last Voyage of the Demeter
The Last Voyage of the Demeter, Universal

But, for my money, Botet does the most exciting work in the film. Aesthetically, his Dracula is alright—a descendant of Orlok brought to undeath by solid-if-familiar makeup and digital effects. He’s very bat-like, and some slight draconic traits in his design are both cool and feel like a missed opportunity. It’s the physicality that makes him fun. Deprived of Anna as a regular food source, Dracula cannot just pulverize the Demeter’s crew and be done with it. He has to be prudent with the strength he has left. In his early appearance, Botet layers cunning and compensation into Dracula’s careful, almost pained movements. He’s an apex predator but weaker than he had planned to be and has to work around that. When he strikes, Botet does so with a slow buildup that suggests that devastating as Dracula’s early film attacks are, they take all that he has to launch.

As The Last Voyage of the Demeter continues, and Dracula’s strength returns, Botet layers in increasing confidence—he sneers at his victims, his posture improves, and during the picture’s most brutal scene, practically luxuriates in unfurling himself from his hiding place—savoring the crew’s terror like he’s been hanging out with Rebecca Ferguson’s Rose the Hat from Doctor Sleep. It’s a fun monster performance, backed up by Øvredal’s good use of the Demeter set and confident scarecraft, and a fitting counterpart to Hawkins, Franciosi, and company’s humanity.

Unfortunately, The Last Voyage of the Demeter falters in its last act, with a final battle whose tone feels closer to Van Helsing’s monster action than the rest of the picture’s monster horror and an epilogue that screams, “Someone really wants Universal Pictures Presents Attack on London: The Last Voyage of the Demeter II-Dracula Rising Part I1.” It’s a halting, awkward conclusion to an otherwise rock-solid B-as-in-the-good-grade horror movie, albeit one leavened by a final strong character beat. With that said? More works here than doesn’t, and getting a quality Creature Feature that runs on good acting (human and creature) and good direction is a treat. Worth a watch, whether in theaters or when it hits rental.

The Last Voyage of the Demeter is now playing in theaters.

The Last Voyage of the Demeter Trailer:

  1. Part of the Dark Universe Reborn! ↩︎

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