Major studio movies often try to recycle familiar characters by forcing a new twist or vision on them. Batman has been through this cycle multiple times. The Last Voyage of the Demeter brings back Dracula, although the movie actually does find a fresh angle. The story is about the boat that brought Dracula to London in a time before he was the figure we know him to be. That’s a great take, and director André Øvredal (Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark) executes it well.
Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton) plays Clemens, a doctor who gets a job on the Demeter after saving the life of Toby (Cobweb’s Woody Norman), the young son of Captain Eliot (Liam Cunningham). The ship has been commissioned to transport 50 wooden crates, the contents of which are unknown. First mate Wojcheck (David Dastmalchian) is determined to get a promised bonus for delivering the crates in a timely manner.
Everyone soon discovers that there are two people on board they didn’t know about. One is a female stowaway, Anna (Aisling Franciosi). The other is whatever killed all the on-board livestock and has now started killing members of the crew in gruesome fashion. As bodies begin piling up, Captain Eliot orders a complete search of the ship, but the culprit proves elusive. That’s because he can turn into a bat-like creature and fly away.
In terms of structure, The Last Voyage of the Demeter is very similar to Alien. It’s a slow-burn kind of horror movie where the first third is spent letting us get to know the characters while simultaneously building a sense of dread. The middle third has people dying one at a time as those still surviving try to determine what’s happening. Then you get the final third where the creature launches into a sustained attack. Few films can match the nerve-rattling tension of Ridley Scott’s 1979 masterpiece. Øvredal nevertheless manages to sustain an eerie vibe, effectively using fog to generate ambiance, as well as to make it difficult to guess when Dracula will pop out.
Once it settles into full-on horror, the movie offers several shockingly graphic slayings. You definitely get your money’s worth in terms of gory vampire attacks. We’ve all seen the trope where a vampire turns to ash upon getting hit with sunlight. A poor crew member gets bitten and transformed, then suffers an excruciating demise that makes turning to ash seem tame. These moments pack a punch because the plot has spent time building up to them. Layers of suspense are continually added so that when the violence arrives, it feels like a release.
Production design on the film is incredible. The ship and costumes are beautifully detailed, helping to set the tone. Sturdy performances from Hawkins, Dastmalchian and Cunningham give the story a human center. Buried under first-class makeup and prosthetics to play Dracula, Javier Botet is thoroughly menacing. The Last Voyage of the Demeter has a couple brief slow spots and the supporting characters could have been more colorful. The good qualities are strong enough to compensate for a few minor flaws. On balance, this is a well-made, atmospheric chiller that nicely differentiates itself from other cinematic Dracula tales.
out of four
The Last Voyage of the Demeter is rated R for bloody violence. The running time is 1 hour and 58 minutes.