The scary story of Dracula has been told, retold, and reinterpreted more times than Sesame Street’s Count can count, but few filmmakers have zeroed in on the single chapter from Bram Stoker’s novel which is about the bloodsucker’s voyage from Transylvania to England. The portion is written as a captain’s log and tells of the terror that reduced the crew of a cargo ship, The Demeter, to nothing but lifeless husks.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter opens on the remains of a shipwreck that drift onto Whitby’s gray, sullen shores on August 6, 1897. There are no living souls onboard—only Captain Eliot’s (Liam Cunningham, Dog Soldiers) carefully crafted account of the havoc wreaked by an unknown entity referred to as “The Evil.”
We are then transported back in time to a few weeks earlier when The Demeter set sail from Eastern Europe. There are several heavy, oblong boxes of cargo, all branded with dragon crest symbols that spook the locals so much that only a few foreigners are willing to take the gig as extra crew. Dr. Clemens (Corey Hawkins, Survive), a Cambridge-schooled man wishing to return to London, is a last-second hire when he saves Eliot’s nine-year-old grandson, Toby (Woody Norman, C’mon, C’mon) from being flattened by a falling crate.
Once on board, Toby shows Clemens the ropes and gives him a tour of the cargo hold, which includes livestock and… those eerie crates that look like oversized coffins. By and by we meet the rest of the crew, most of whom are future cannon fodder—but standouts include David Dastmalchian (Boston Strangler) as the taciturn First Mate, and Jon Jon Briones (Ratched) as the pious, God-fearing cook.
There’s also Anna (Aisling Franciosi, The Nightengale), a frail, pale young woman who mysteriously appears partway through the journey and whom the Captain and crew believe to be a stowaway. She’s very sick, so the doctor gives her a blood transfusion—he just happens to have the kit in his bag. That’s one of the many moments in which you are expected to suspend your disbelief (another is: once The Evil is discovered, they only look for him at night; never during the day when he’s asleep and vulnerable).
Director André Øvredal (Troll Hunter, The Autopsy of Jane Doe) said in an interview that he didn’t wish to portray Dracula as a suave aristocrat, so he employed the talents of creature actor Javier Botet (It, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Mama) to bring The Evil to life on the silver screen (though he is heavily augmented with CGI). While I think the idea of a supernatural killer looking like one of us is actually scarier, this is a shiver-inducing monster that brings to mind F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu or the vampires from the miniseries, Salem’s Lot. He’s also got batwings and rows of pointy, piranha-like teeth.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter looks and sounds absolutely epic—the cinematography, color palette, set design, effects, sound design, and score are all absolutely top-notch. Some of the overt CG is a bit much but that’s forgivable considering the fact that real monsters and freakishly stormy seas are pretty hard to come by.
The characters are well-drawn, thanks to an able screenplay by Bragi F. Schut (Escape Room) and Zak Olkewicz (Fear Street, Pt 2), though maybe a bit too much—the two-hour runtime of the film could have easily been pared down, which would certainly have created better dread and suspense. As it is, The Last Voyage of the Demeter is a good horror movie but not a great one.
For fans of vampire films, The Last Voyage of the Demeter is worth seeing on the big screen—all others should wait until it hits the streamers.