In the context of fatigued properties, André Øvredal’s The Last Voyage of the Demeter, adapted from just one short chapter in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, is a refreshing concept. It’s a big budget Gothic sea-fairing horror, a cinematic curiosity somewhere between Hammer Horror and The Pirates of the Carribean. When it was announced that the man who gave us Troll Hunter and The Autopsy of Jane Doe would be making a foray into Stoker territory, it piqued interest but seemed a waste of his talents.
Yet, choosing to dodge the Harker plot, The Last Voyage of the Demeter circumvents a story we know too well and fleshes out the Count’s journey from Romania to England. It’s a smart move since that part of the novel is lightest on details but poses a lot of potential as a one location script. Its the part of the book with the most creative freedom.
After introducing the crew of motely characters (including the ever-magnetic talents of Liam Cunningham and David Dastmalchian) Øvredal quickly gets to work. First, the animals are slaughtered, then a young, emaciated woman is discovered on board, and then people start going missing. Last minute crew addition Clemins (Corey Hawkins) wants to treat the sick woman, but it doesn’t go down well. Whilst the crew start bickering amongst themselves (sexism and racial tensions find happy lodgings in the toxic isolation of the ship) the Count cracks on, helping himself to crew whenever the sun goes down.
Øvredal’s adaptation is to be commended for ditching the charismatic connotations of the Count in favour of the purely monstrous. There’s plenty adaptations of Dracula as charming and seductive and frankly it’s become somewhat tired. Like the intellectual psycho who listens to classical music, the romantic vampire has perhaps had its day.
Javier Botet’s version is a terrifying beast, closer to Reggie Nalder’s demonic vampire in Salem’s Lot. It’s been ages since Dracula felt like an actual monster; vicious, bloodthirsty, sadistic, and terrifying. Botet’s version is at times an emaciated ghoul, a stalking shape on the ships deck, and, at others, a fully-fledged apex predator. When things get messy, there’s glimmers of greatness, but we rarely get a good look at the violence because the film is so dark.
But the concept of the Count isn’t the issue. The fact is Øvredal’s film is painfully light on the creativity, mood, and surprise that made him so popular. To watch The Autopsy of Jane Doe and then this, feels bewildering.
It’s in the pacing and surprising lack of claustrophobia that The Last Voyage of the Demeter drops the ball. There are some superb sequences in here, a few genuine frights, but there’s too much downtime, not enough love for its small crew of characters, and few new ideas. Trapping a small, terrified group of people on a boat with a monster should be easy money in terms of tension, but Øvredal never quite pulls it off.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter is a nice twist on a well-known story with a great supporting cast, and a truly terrifying reinvention of Count Dracula. However, its sparse grit and overdrawn runtime betray a somewhat uninspired approach from a director known for invention.
Dir. André Øvredal
Stars. Corey Hawkins, Aisling Franciosi, Javier Botet, Liam Cunningham, David Dastmalchian,