From a handful of pages by Bram Stoker comes The Last Voyage of the Demeter, a moody hunt-and-kill chronicle of Count Dracula’s passage from Transylvania to England. Director André Øvredal expands upon a single chapter in Stoker’s pioneering novel to imagine how its titular vampire fed his hunger at sea. Journal entries about missing crewmen are translated into a rain-soaked nightmare of bad sailor’s luck, torn open necks, and waterlogged isolation that plays to Øvredal’s storytelling strengths. It’s a throwback to broody, Hammer-esque horrors with dread as thick as a fog over the moors, and while the journey isn’t quite fit for a nearly two-hour runtime, there’s still a bloody-good addition to Dracula lore found in the dimly lit decks and cargo hold of the Demeter.
Writers Bragi F. Schut, Stefan Ruzowitzky, and Zak Olkewicz introduce protagonists like Corey Hawkins’ Cambridge graduate Clemens or David Dastmalchian’s gruff and hard-nosed second mate Wojchek, helping us sympathize with characters who are otherwise faceless cannon fodder in the source material. From Liam Cunningham as Captain Eliot – a sympathetic leader making one last haul before retirement – to Aisling Franciosi as the mysterious stowaway Anna, Øvredal’s ensemble feels at home quivering under a doomy, gloomy moonlight, petrified by a gangly figure lurking in the shadows.
Set in the same year that Dracula was actually published, The Last Voyage of the Demeter draws much of its inspiration from the seventh chapter of Stoker’s novel — a short collection of newspaper clippings and a captain’s log detailing how a small ship full of sailors was besieged and ultimately wrecked by a monstrous presence while traveling from Romania to England.
Being a seasoned sailor who’s spent years ferrying valuable goods on the Demeter, there’s very little about the world that still truly shocks Captain Eliot (Liam Cunningham) by the time we first meet him in the movie’s opening act as he and his crew are preparing to set sail once again. With Eliot having recently taken in his grandson Toby (Woody Norman) following the death of his daughter, first mate Wojchek (David Dastmalchian), the Demeter’s religious cook Joseph (Jon Jon Briones), and other members of the crew like Olgaren (Stefan Kapicic) all know that they’re more than just colleagues to their captain.
But one of the largest missed opportunities here is the packaging of Dracula him– or itself. The creature has none of the range seen in Stoker’s novel, none of the bizarre and even dashing humanity that was so brilliantly (and crazily) rendered by Gary Oldman in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 opus “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” which ages surprisingly well. Here, the original vampire is relegated to being a winged night demon, and even with one functionally scary and very ballsy mid-movie sequence, “Demeter” in turn is relegated to not much more than a creature feature.
It also can’t be ignored that the lore of Dracula is ripe for interesting visual, Gothic and occult touches (again, see the Coppola film), which feel lacking in this new outing – a sea fog sequence toward the end feels over the top but strangely welcome, if only for the sheer fact that it provides a new ambiance for the somewhat humdrum proceedings.
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